Avocans on the Watch

June 27th, 2015 1:21 am

First Posted: 4/9/2013

A local Crime Watch is not about people being vigilantes. It’s about people being vigilant. It’s about people paying attention to their surroundings as they go about their daily routines and chores.

Crime Watch is about neighbors reattaching themselves to their neighborhoods. It’s about neighbors watching out for the elderly and the children in their midst.

Jim Brogan, president of the Avoca Crime Watch, has learned these things since last October when he called for the formation of a Crime Watch in Avoca Borough.

“I saw what was happening in Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre, the drugs, people being killed in the street,” Brogan said. “I thought we better get people together before the town goes to hell.”

Brogan, 65, wasn’t sure where to start so he used common sense. “Really, I had no clue. I called people I knew, friends, who felt the same way.” The first Avoca Crime Watch meeting was Oct. 1, 2012 at the Pittston Diner.

Nine men showed up, several of them friends as members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic service organization. Four of the nine became the Crime Watch officers - Brogan, president; Ned Jones, vice president; Gene Philbin, secretary; and Jim Corcoran, treasurer.

The other five - Bill Kiesinger, Bill Joyce, Pat Hannon, Jimmy Doran and Jeff Decker - became board members. Brogan and the other officers went to Dupont Borough meetings and the Duryea “Night Out” to learn from the established Crime Watches in those boroughs and from the watch presidents, Pina Hansen in Dupont and Trina Moss in Duryea.

They ran a notice in the Sunday Dispatch, calling for a meeting and 35 people showed up. They “passed a hat” and got $450.

Stan Waleski suggested the Crime Watch incorporate as a non-profit organization. Waleski’s organization, the Jolly Boys, best known for its youth basketball league, paid for the state and county filing fees and Avoca Borough solicitor Charlie McCormick handled the legal end of the incorporation pro bono.

An advantage to being incorporated is when a member registers, he or she gets a pin number they can use when they call 911. “They can say ACW and the pin number if they are reluctant to give their name,” Brogan said of the Avoca Crime Watch members.

At each meeting, a few more people showed. In six months, the nine founders lead an organization which has grown almost tenfold to 80 members. Grace McLaughlin put together an email list to send alerts about meetings.

Charlotte Raup, a coordinator of 14 neighborhood crime watches in Wilkes-Barre, was a guest speaker at one of the meetings. State Trooper Marty Connors gave tips on how to recognize meth labs and told horror stories of the devastation those labs can cause.

Treasuer Jim Corcoran said the Crime Watch doesn’t want to insulate the Avoca. “We don’t want to keep people out. We want people to know it’s a nice place to live. We’re trying to preserve that.”

Avoca police officers are regulars at the meetings where they read, blotter-style, the monthly report.

With only one officer on patrol per shift in the mile-square town of 2,700, police cheif Dave Homeschek appreciates the extra eyes. “Obviously crime in our area is increasing and it’s one more tool we can use,” Homeschek said.

But, Brogan emphasized, the Crime Watch members aren’t cops without badges. “We have our bylaws and our ‘dos’ and ‘donts.’ Don’t follow, don’t engage, don’t confront, don’t put yourselves in harm’s way. We don’t patrol. We’re just always on the lookout. People tend to look the other way. We want people to take notice and report suspicious activity.”

The Watch bought a welcome sign for the borough with $1,100 in donated money — some of it from former Avocans living out of town — and with the help of Rep. Mike Carroll had installed on Main Street. They also bought Crime Watch pole signs and home window signs. A typical house sign reads “Crime Watch in progress. If I don’t call the police, my neighbor will.”

The Watch helped convince the Avoca Borough Council to enact a landlord-tenant ordinance, which requires an inspection of properties posted for rent.

Mike Lombardo of the Pittston City Redevelopment Authority, a major figure in the city’s revitalization, will speak at the next Avoca Crime Watch meeting on Tuesday, April 16 at the Avoca Town Hall

“I plan to talk about code enforcement,” Lombardo said. “It’s the Gulliani model, the broken window theory, that relates to crime. I’ll talk about things like tracking the frequency of calls, which can lead to a nuisance property designation, and I’ll talk about the value of lighting.”

Brogan said the group is looking forward to hearing Lombardo. “We have a lot of blight. Empty business and abandoned houses. We have houses abandoned so long nobody can remember who lived in them.”

Knowing that blight can attract crime, the Watch will have a borough clean up April 27 with Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Avoca Lions Club.

Lombardo cited what he called “a prime example” of neighborhood Watch success in Pittston. “The solving of broken windows of the Presbyterian church. Neighbors paying attention gave the police a good tip.”

Brogan grew up in West Avoca and has lived in the borough all his life. He’s a Vietnam veteran. He and his wife, Helen, have three children and six grandchildren.