Neighborhood watch effective for residents

Published 12:07 am Sunday, November 3, 2013

NATCHEZ — Tryon Wilson had lived in the Forsythe subdivision in Morgantown for nearly 20 years, and something had seriously gotten under his craw.

“I hated it — hated it — that my neighborhood was the worst neighborhood in Morgantown,” he said.

He didn’t know it, but down the street from Wilson, Sonny and Edra Daniels had the same concerns. They had lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years, and during that time, things had changed, and not for the better.

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“When we first moved here, all of us down here knew each other, the kids went to school together and the parents were all friends together,” Sonny said. “As time passed, that wasn’t the case anymore.”

Instead of neighbors knowing neighbors, the subdivision had become inundated with loiterers who didn’t live there, who lingered at stop signs, drinking and — residents suspected — passing illegal substances between themselves. Loud music pumped out of cars that didn’t belong in a neighborhood half populated with older people. Houses were burglarized. Sometimes there were fights.

“It was embarrassing to come home,” Wilson said. “You would have visitors come to your house, and you have got about 15-20 people standing on the corner and your guests looking around — that was the impression they would have.”

But then, about a year ago, things began to change as residents stood up and began to join forces to combat the area’s crime by forming a Neighborhood Watch group.

“When I was first elected, we had calls out to that area nearly every day,” Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said. “Now, it’s almost non-existent. They took that neighborhood back.”

Mayfield said neighborhood watches work because they deter crime and bring residents closer in an effort to watch out for each other.

“It is very important that (residents) all trust each other and are more cohesive as a community,” Mayfield said.

Taking the Morgantown neighborhood back didn’t involve calling the authorities at every opportunity. It didn’t require violent confrontation in the streets.

Instead, the Danielses said, it just took getting back to knowing the people who lived nearby.

When neighbors started talking with neighbors, they realized everyone was concerned about the direction of the subdivision.

A lot of the common concerns were realized when people started getting involved in a Neighborhood Watch program. The Morgantown area had a Neighborhood Watch that met at Morgantown Elementary, but it was poorly attended. After the Danielses had been members for a couple of years, one of the members suggested it be moved to the Church of God of Prophecy — at the head of the Forsythe subdivision — and more and more people started showing up.

Wilson was elected captain, and Sonny and Edra Daniels were named co-captains. From there, the Danielses made an effort to get to know everyone who lived in the area, and started asking people if they would be willing to put a Neighborhood Watch sign in their yard.

The sign was a public acknowledgement the homeowners weren’t just going to watch out for themselves, but would know their neighbors and keep their neighbors’ safety and property in mind.

“They told us that if we just put these signs up, it would push some of the unwanted activity away,” Edra Daniels said. “We don’t mean to give it to somebody else, but we want it gone.”

Now, as they did then, the couple walks the neighborhood every evening and tries to greet everyone they see.

“I want everybody to know who I am, and I want to know who they are,” Sonny Daniels said. “We want to be friends with everybody, and we treat everybody like we want to be treated. That is one of the main ingredients.”

Not everyone greeted the efforts with enthusiasm.

“I had some folks tell me, ‘Oh, you’re with that Neighborhood Watch, y’all are just going to snitch to the sheriff’s deputies on us,’” Wilson said.

“I would tell them we are not out to get them, we are not out to hurt anybody — this is a community thing.”

More people joined, more posted the signs in their yards letting the neighborhood know they, too, were watching, and the undesirable activity started to dissipate.

“The more people you get involved, then the kids realize that ‘My mama is a part of this,’” Wilson said.

Once, after the sheriff’s office had been called because of a noise disturbance, Wilson had a crowd of people surround him, seemingly ready to fight.

“I told them, ‘I didn’t call the sheriff’s office.’” Wilson said.

“I said, ‘You have neighbors across the street from you. You have neighbors on both sides of you. You don’t know who you disturbed. You don’t know who made the call.’”

The other thing Wilson did was to continue something he’s tried to do for years, be a positive model for younger people. By his own account, Wilson grew up in the Maryland Heights subdivision near North Natchez Park and learned to live a disciplined life after joining the Air Force.

If he sees a young person seemingly heading in a bad direction, Wilson said he tries to address it without being confrontational.

“I guess I have lived the life they are living,” he said.

“I never try to judge a kid, so whenever I try to approach a kid, I approach them like he is somebody and make him want to change. I don’t tell him he better do this and better do that.”

But sometimes things did require a more stern approach.

“One time, right there on the corner from my house, they wanted to hang on that corner every day,” Wilson said. “They were hanging on that corner, drinking and doing (a little) of everything, I straightened it out. I went down there and told them, ‘This is not going to happen, hanging out on this corner every day while I am at work.’”

The Neighborhood Watch group likewise encourages people to keep their properties clean, Sonny Daniels said.

“A criminal coming into a neighborhood that is all grown up, he will think he can do anything there, but if it is clean and everybody keeps it up, he will think twice,” he said.

And with those few simple steps, things got — in Edra Daniels’ words — “a lot quieter.”

Things aren’t perfect yet, but Wilson and the Daniels said they and the rest of their band of neighborhood watchers want the program to expand more fully through the Morgantown area — the program was originally intended to be a whole Morgantown program, and not to center so much on the Forsythe area.

Mayfield said he would love to see the Forsythe subdivision’s success replicated in other areas.

“When people get together, they don’t feel so alone,” he said. “They think, ‘I can’t stand up by myself and do something about this,’ but the whole group gets together and sees that there were enough like-minded people to do what they wanted to do, they were empowered.

“You don’t have to live in fear, you can make a difference.”