FALLS CITY — See something amiss in your neighborhood you call police, right?
In Falls City, sometimes people call members of the Neighborhood Watch.
The city’s group — which has eyes on the entire town, not just certain neighborhoods — has been active for almost a year, and has 15 members who patrol regularly.
Tracy Young, one of those members, is on the receiving end of a lot calls from fellow residents. She encourages people to call police, and sometimes they do. If not, she is willing to take the concern or tip and place the call herself.
“We try and help out,” Young said. “I know we are making an impact.”
Falls City hasn’t supported attempts to increase law enforcement presence in town at the ballot box, and residents’ relationship Polk County Sheriff’s Office is tenuous, but improving, Sheriff Mark Garton said.
The only incorporated town in the Polk County without its own police department, Falls City voted down levies to pay for contracts for patrol in the city four times between 2001 and 2007. In Polk County’s two attempts to pass a public safety levy in November 2013 (failed) and May 2015 (passed), the Falls City precinct voted against the measures 90-212 (2013) and 136-198 (2015)
Attitudes may be changing through a combination of Neighborhood Watch and the sheriff’s office renewed effort to make in-roads in Falls City. Garton or one of his deputies attends every Falls City City Council meeting, participates in law enforcement-related town hall meetings, and has helped the Neighborhood Watch program get started.
For their part, the Neighborhood Watch group is active in the community and more than willing to report concerns they see — or are told about — using Facebook to post tips and or directly contacting deputies.
Garton said the idea of forming a Neighborhood Watch group in the town took off fast. He said there were only a few people a t the first informational meeting. The next meeting, interest had increased significantly.
“There was like 20 people there wanting to be captain of their area, not just interested people. They really wanted to take a role in making it work,” he said. “It’s great. It’s really great to have that support. Anybody will tell you it hasn’t always been that way out there, and there are a lot of good people there.”
Young said when the sheriff’s office was losing deputies and patrol hours to budget cuts, the perception was that the amount of crime increased and the trust in the office deteriorated. That is getting better with patrol hours restored and a full complement of deputies who interact with residents on a regular basis.
Young added that responses are getting faster, which may encourage people to call police.
“The community is getting over its fear,” she said.
The sheriff’s office supports the group, which meets monthly, often with Garton or a deputy on hand to answer questions or offer training on how to safely and legally patrol and report potential crime. He’s encouraged by the enthusiasm the group has for its mission.
“We continually educate them on what information we need to be able to act versus what the public thinks we need,” he said. “I honestly think most people are supportive of it because they want to make their city better.”
Young said the group is happy to help the sheriff’s office — and its community — in any way it can.
“They can’t be out here all the time,” Young said.