In the past month, Ocean View has been hit with a string of thefts by what police said they believe are suspects looking for cash, and Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin held a Neighborhood Watch meeting earlier this week to urge residents to contact their local authorities anytime they find something to be suspicious, or if a crime has occurred.
“Recently, in the last couple of days, we’ve had a number of thefts from motor vehicles within the town limits of Ocean View,” said McLaughlin. “The incidents are not being reported to the police. Folks are calling their neighbors, and we’re getting the reports sometimes two or three times later.”
McLaughlin said that those who have been robbed have also been rummaging through their cars following the incident, before police are on the scene.
“If you see that there’s been a break-in, call the police and leave it be until we get there. If you have a problem, try not to disturb the area until we get there,” he said, adding that, many times, a crime scene is contaminated by owners looking to see what was possibly stolen.
McLaughlin said that, in the most recent string of break-ins, the suspect is known to have been on foot at night and wearing dark-colored clothing, and seeking out unlocked vehicles and rummaging for money, rather than valuables.
“They need their money,” said McLaughlin, noting that his personal opinion is that the criminals are in need of funding for their drug habits. “They aren’t taking GPS units. They aren’t looking for computers. They’re looking for change. They’re looking for $2 they can throw in their kitty.”
In light of the recent criminal activity, McLaughlin said the police department hopes to establish a line of communication with it citizens and communities.
“I was frustrated,” he admitted. “Part of that comes from the fact that there is someone in your community doing these things... I take it personal when something like this happens. It’s also frustrating that we’re not getting… despite many years of trying to communicate with the community, people still aren’t calling us.”
McLaughlin said that, if residents feel unsafe, have a rabid animal problem, are in need of immediate medical attention or have been the victims of a crime, they should call 911 immediately, which will dispatch the officer on duty.
“If there’s a storm event, or somebody’s not cleaning up after their dog — we want to know about it.”
“We’ve had folks drop to the floor from a heart attack, and they’re calling the police station here, when they should be calling 911,” he said, adding that residents can call the police department directly regarding non-emergencies.
McLaughlin also suggested that residents watch a FEMA-adopted video that teaches people how to deal with a shooter scenario.
“These events are happening all around the country, at all types of venues,” he said. “Many folks believe these types of events only happen in large metropolitan areas, but it can happen anywhere.”
McLaughlin said a great way to help deter crime within the community is to have an active Neighborhood Watch program.
“If you don’t have an active Neighborhood Watch in your community, you need to establish one,” he said. “Then you assign someone to work as a coordinator, to work as a liaison with the police department.”
McLaughlin said that some communities — including Savannah’s Landing and Hunter’s Run — already have watch programs that are actively working with the police department and are kept updated on crimes in the area.
“If you can establish a situation where you know your neighbors, and you’re watching out for each other, that’s huge,” he said. “We’ve got to have some help. We have to get the message out that, when problems are occurring in your community, you have to get involved.”
He added that the department is not advocating for armed neighborhood watches, and emphasized that if residents see a crime occurring, they should stay safe and be a good witness, rather than possibly trying to confront the perpetrator.
“There’s no hard, fast rule… Contact the police and be a good witness. Assume the worst — the person could be on drugs, the person could have an extensive criminal history. Delaware law allows you to use force to protect yourself and your property and take ‘reasonable measures’ to do so.”
He noted that the Ocean View Police Department has a House Check Program for residents who plan on leaving town for vacation. Residents tell the department when they’ll be leaving and returning, and where they will be, and give an emergency contact number. McLaughlin said that officers will walk the perimeter of the house at least once a week while the owner is out of town.
The department also offers a Senior Check-In Program, in which elderly citizens living alone sign up to call into the department once a day. If the department does not hear from the resident, they will make a house call.
“Sometimes we have keys,” said McLaughlin, adding that, recently, a citizen had fallen overnight and broken her hips. The following morning, when she didn’t call the station, officers arrived and she yelled to them, and they used force to enter the house.
“Her first words to us were, ‘I knew you were coming,’” he recalled. “It’s a good program that’s available, and we encourage more people to take advantage of that.”
The department also plans to offer an eight-hour pepper-spray class to those in the community who would like to learn how to effectively use the product for self-defense.
McLaughlin added that, although the town has had some trouble with crime, it is relatively crime-free, and he hopes that, with the public’s help, it will stay that way.
“This isn’t Mayberry, but it’s a small community,” he said. “I tell my officers when we hire them that about 75 percent about what we do on a daily basis is not police work. It’s community related work, establishing relationships within the community. Come in and see us and talk to us in person.”
For more information on how to start a Neighborhood Watch, call (302) 539-111. The Ocean View Police Department is located at 201 Central Avenue in Ocean View. To watch “Run. Hide. Fight.” visit, www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0&feature=player_embedded. Residents can also sign up for a free service that will alert them to criminal activities in their town through www.nixel.com.