Amid a recent drop in residential burglaries in La Cañada Flintridge, city officials have observed that more residents are reporting crimes, spurred in part by a robust organization of neighborhood watch groups led by local residents.
The city has about 50 neighborhood watch groups, each composed of 10 to 50 residents.
Groups are usually set up through Eric Matejka, LCF’s community liaison officer, who guides newcomers into the process of reporting crime in their neighborhoods.
Matejka, a former deputy at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, told the Outlook Valley Sun that he has been working with LCF residents for about 20 years.
“A lot of the times, people don’t know who their neighbors are … and now when they get in this group, they are able to talk to each other, and feel comfortable saying, ‘Hey, I’m going out of town, can you keep an eye out on my house?’ Or ‘Can you bring in my mail?’ So, they communicate with each other more,” said Matejka.
Neighborhood watch groups are made up of neighbors who live on the same or adjacent street. The groups are intentionally kept small, Matejka said, so neighbors can get to know each other and have a realistic radius that they can keep watch on. Within each group, there will be a leader or captain to oversee it and communicate from time to time to their neighbors through social media or email.
LCF resident Cydney Motia has been a neighborhood watch captain for more than 10 years and has since grown her group over the years.
“I think it’s really beneficial for anybody to have a neighborhood watch group. You get to know your neighbors…You kind of start looking out for each other, and then we communicate a lot more,” said Motia.
She brought up the example of spring break, when she reminded neighbors who were going out of town to take preventative measures, like asking others to take out their trash bins to make it appear they were home.
“Since we’ve had a group, I don’t think we’ve had any burglaries because people know what cars to look out for, [and] they know who you know and what their neighbors drive. If I go out of town, I’ll tell my neighbors and they’ll keep an eye on my house,” said Motia.
Motia emphasized the need for communication in a neighborhood watch group, because without it the group can just die out. She offers tips and reminders but also checks in to see if neighbors have changed their contact information. She communicates with her group of about 50 residents monthly through email and social media.
“Our group is pretty big, we’ve got [residents from] Grand Avenue, Fairview, lower La Cañada Boulevard, [and] part of Salisbury. You can make your group bigger, but Eric likes to do smaller groups so they’re more manageable. But since I have more experience, and my neighborhood has more experience, we can add people,” said Motia.
Matejka likes to keep groups small, she explained, so residents aren’t overwhelmed to start one in the first place. Adding new residents or informing others who haven’t heard of the group is also something Motia likes to do, she noted.
But, unfortunately, it often takes a burglary to spur someone to look into joining a group, Motia added.
Once the steps have been taken to approve a new neighborhood watch group, Matejka will schedule an in-person orientation (updated with current crime trends), then each group independently meets and updates their members with data and crime stats supplied by the Sheriff’s Department to the city.
“I’ve been told that they feel empowered afterwards, because they’ve gotten to know each other, and that they’ve learned how these crimes are happening and all the stuff the city does with cameras and patrols,” said Matejka.
As for what he would like the future of neighborhood watch groups to look like, Matejka said that he thinks the program will grow even more and hopes that people become aware of what they can do to help protect themselves.
If someone is interested in forming a neighborhood watch group, they can contact Matejka at email@example.com.
First published in the April 20 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.