KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
DORSET -- Four months after its initial meeting, the Dorset Neighborhood Watch seems to have made an impression on residents and would-be thieves alike.
"There’s a lot more people out in Dorset calling in suspicious activity," said Vermont State Police Lt. Reginald Trayah, commander of the VSP barracks in Shaftsbury, which serves all of Bennington County.
Trayah said even an unmarked police vehicle on patrol in town was noted by a citizen who found the vehicle suspicious until he saw the trooper inside.
Trayah, who was one of the key speakers at the watch’s first meeting in September, said people paying such attention and calling police are the key element law enforcement was looking for. He said a typical problem for his troopers, as well as other police agencies, is that people will see something suspicious, be it a vehicle, person on foot, or in one case flashlights inside a neighbor’s house, and will wait one or more days before notifying police, or in some cases just town government officials.
Trayah said by then the trails are too cold to follow and police would rather respond to dozens of innocent calls than let an actual criminal escape because of a late report.
He said while the watch has only been active for four months, it seems to have helped, as incidents from Dorset are down. The town, with its high number of seasonal homes, had been experiencing a high number of burglaries, many of which were reported in the spring when second home owners returned and found evidence of break-ins.
The watch in Dorset is organized primarily along Dorset West Road and the roads that branch off it. It’s divided into 16 sections, each with a captain who receives information after neighbors have notified police of an issue. Jim Salsgiver is one of three captains who oversee the watch.
"I’d say it’s been a success and it’s really laid the groundwork for the future," Salsgiver said, adding that the watch isn’t completely up and running yet, and more organizational work is needed. He said the three main captains intend to meet over the course of the next two weeks to hash out some final organization plans. He said neighborhood watch signs are now available for people who have purchased them to pick up.
Salsgiver said when he first became involved with the watch he was not sure what it would look like, and rather than it being people on patrol it has taken the form of heightened community awareness, which he said should continue over the holidays and winter. He said people are now more inclined to let their neighbors know when they will be away from their homes so suspicious activity will be noted.
Town Manager Rob Gaiotti said the town has purchased some neighborhood watch signs to put up, and intends to have police presence increased over the next few months.
Trayah said the signs and publicity let criminals know Dorset is not as attractive a target as before and other towns are taking note of Dorset’s example. Shaftsbury has been talking to police leaders about stepping up patrols and possibly organizing a neighborhood watch, given that it too has suffered burglaries in its more rural zones.