Keeping watch

Bill Davis helped create a Citizens on Patrol program about two years ago to prevent someone like the BTK serial killer from taking his neighborhood by surprise.

Since the news broke Thursday that police think BTK is still in Wichita, others may now have the same idea as Davis.

"We all believe in helping out our neighborhoods," said Davis, president of the South Central Progressive Neighborhood Association, which has been in existence for 15 years. "We look out for one another."

The re-emergence of BTK is a somber reminder, community members said Friday, that participating in neighborhood initiatives and working with community police officers remains an effective way of fighting crime. Communication, above all, is the key to safe neighborhoods, they said.

Every month, Davis prints 2,000 copies of his newsletter and calls neighbors reminding them of meetings so apathy won't take over the association's progress, he said.

Wichita Independent Neighborhoods can assist groups interested in starting, reviving or maintaining these associations, said Bill Fox, a WIN founder and former president of the North Riverside Neighborhood Association.

WIN indirectly helps reduce crime even though its primary purpose is to help residents address environmental, zoning and trash concerns, he said.

"If a neighborhood cleans itself up," Fox said, "(it) also becomes less open to crime."

Setting up an association means defining neighborhood boundaries, rallying neighbors to participate, creating a meeting time and date, identifying issues within the area that need to be addressed and working with community police officers.

While associations cover an expansive area, neighborhood watches tackle crime block by block, said Officer Heather Frazier, the Wichita Police Department's neighborhood watch coordinator.

Frazier said the success of neighborhood watches depends on the willingness of neighbors to be observant.

"There's nothing like having good, watchful neighbors," she said.

Jerry E. Miller, a member of the Mead Neighborhood Association, said that his neighbors in south Wichita watch his home and that he returns the favor.

"You're not going to see much if you don't occasionally look out," Miller said.

BTK apparently stalked or scouted his victims, Miller said.

"Think about it: Somebody had to see him at least once before he did anything," he said.

Miller said people should turn on lights, talk with neighbors, and keep windows and doorways free of debris, as well as report suspicious activities such as loitering.

The whole purpose of having neighborhoods involved is to alert police to suspicious activities, said Lt. Max Tenbrook, captain at Patrol South.

When people are involved in "legitimate activity" such as recreation, living and working, "that sends a message to people doing illegitimate activities that they're going to stand out," Tenbrook said.

June Bailey said gaining a sense of empowerment and ownership of your neighborhood means getting to know those who live around you.

"There is a need for the community to know what's happening around them," said Bailey, former president of the Orchard Breeze Neighborhood Association in west Wichita. "We need to get back to the Beaver Cleaver days. I think people truly miss that."