LANCASTER – The Vacation Watch Program, speeding in school zones, and neighborhood crime mapping were just a few of several issues brought up at the first monthly “Coffee with a Deputy” meeting, which took place Thursday morning.
The program is designed to create a comfortable atmosphere where community members can meet with deputies from the Lancaster Station to address problems facing them in their community.
Attending the first meeting Thursday, were team members from the City of Lancaster’s Public Safety Office, two Lancaster Station patrol deputies, and the program’s key point of contact, Sgt. Theresa Dawson.
Dawson said she attended the meeting in plain clothes because she wanted to be more approachable to members of the community.
“I want them to feel like they can talk to us in a nonthreatening environment,” Dawson said.
Lancaster resident Robert Sunderman, who is a member of his area’s Neighborhood Watch Team, asked about the department’s response time to neighborhood watch calls, about the department’s Vacation Watch Program, and whether there was a mechanism that would allow residents to know where parolees were located.
Dawson said because deputies get extremely busy handling emergency calls, there was an alternate method for reporting nonemergency incidents, including neighborhood watch calls. She said residents could file many police reports online at the City’s website at www.cityoflancasterca.org.
At the very top of the page is a link, titled “File a Police Report.” Several types of reports can be filed online, including lost property, vandalism, harassing telephone calls, and theft from an unlocked vehicle, theft of vehicle parts and theft from a yard or open space.
Dawson said residents can take advantage of the Sheriff’s Department’s Vacation Watch Program, when leaving town for any period of time. To do so, residents need to come into the station and fill out a form. Then deputies routinely drive by residents’ homes while they are away to check for suspicious activity. If deputies spot suspicious activity, they contact the absent resident at the emergency contact number provided.
Deputies advised Sunderman that there was no mechanism in place that would allow residents to map their neighborhood for parolees, however, there was a unit within the Sheriff’s Department specially assigned to check on parolees to ensure they were compliant with the terms of parole.
Additionally, members from the City’s Public Safety Office detailed how residents can use an online crimemapping system to see if and where criminal activity occurs in their neighborhoods. Visit www.crimemapping.com and enter your address in the search area, then select the radius around your address where you would like to check for criminal activity. The system also allows residents to receive text or email alerts when crime happens in their neighborhood. Access this feature by clicking on “Receive Crime Alerts.”
The group also discussed speeding in school zones. Dawson said the department routinely deployed traffic deputies to school zones to check for speeders.
“It’s not that we’re trying to create revenue, it’s that we’re trying to save lives,” Dawson said. “When somebody runs a stop sign at 30 [mph] you’re going to have damage to the vehicle, but when somebody runs a stop sign at 70 [mph], somebody dies.”
Dawson also explained some of the pressures that deputies face everyday. She said deputies respond to numerous calls with little to no breaks in between.
“You may have someone who just picked up a four-year-old off the ground after an accident, then a couple of minutes later, they respond to your call about somebody’s dog barking too loud,” Dawson said. “If you knew what they were facing before your call, it might put things into perspective.”
She said residents often call to report when a deputy does something bad, but rarely call to report when deputies do good. She said calling every once in a while to commend a deputy’s work could do wonders to build officer morale.
“People don’t see us as individuals, but we live in this community, so we care about what happens out here because it’s our community,” Dawson said.
Thursday’s “Coffee with a Deputy” was not very well attended, but organizers are hoping that attendance will grow as the program continues.
The next ‘Coffee with a Deputy’ meeting will be held at 8 a.m., Thursday, April 12, at Bandstand Coffee, located at 706 West Lancaster Boulevard in Lancaster.