COEUR d'ALENE - Neighbors watching out for neighbors.
Around 100 Sanders Beach residents gathered Thursday evening to take the first step in forming a block watch, a move to unify and protect the neighborhood in light of a rash of burglaries in the area.
A first step, Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Wayne Longo said, but an important one, as tightly knit communities have a track record of preventing and reporting crime.
"It's the best thing, they're very effective," said Longo, on hand to talk to the group of concerned citizens Thursday. "It's better than (only relying on) the cops - we don't have enough cops to watch every neighborhood."
While Thursday's meeting was the neighborhood's initial step to combat thievery, one thing is certain, crime reports are up in Coeur d'Alene.
Police say burglars are paying attention to when residents leave their homes, and when they return - while statistics show burglaries are becoming more commonplace across the board.
In June 2011, there were 12 burglaries reported, compared to 31 this June. The total for the first six months of 2011 was 107, while 140 were reported in the same six-month span this year.
To fight that, the neighbors converged Thursday at the Sanders Beach area home of Jack Riggs and Sandy Patano, which was burglarized June 30.
"It's never been like this. I noticed it got bad about a year ago," said Regan Villaire, who has lived in the neighborhood with her husband, Paul, for three years, knows neighbors who have been burglarized, and attended the meeting to find out what the couple could do to help root out the problem.
The goal, she said, "is unity," and she said she's pleased her neighborhood is taking charge.
"I have a feeling it's the same people coming here and doing it - catch them," she said.
The model is simple: A tightly knit neighborhood is more locked in to what's happening around it. It's more apt to know what cars belong there, and who should or shouldn't be checking a certain mailbox. By staying informed on what's happening, people are more likely to know what trends in crime to look for too. When that's the case, something strange is more likely to jump out - and be reported - when it happens.
When Riggs and Patano's home was burglarized, thieves - who police say likely cased the house beforehand - made off with thousands of dollars worth of property.
"I'm sorry we had to meet one another this way," Patano told the crowd, thanking them for getting involved.
But Thursday's turnout, which comprised the largest Block Watch turnout Coeur d'Alene police have addressed, showed the neighborhood is saying "no" to any more crime.
"This is exactly what we want," said Coeur d'Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood, who also addressed the Sanders Beach crowd. The large turnout "speaks volumes that all of you truly do care."
At the end of the meeting, neighbors began purchasing Block Watch signs and organizing smaller groups for their sections of streets. Since an article about the meeting ran Tuesday, police have received more calls from different neighborhoods wanting to join the fight.
Barbara Votava is one of those concerned residents.
She's starting her own Block Watch program for her Macie Loop neighborhood in Hayden.
Votava came home one night in the winter and saw a car idling with its lights off in her driveway. The young men in the car drove slowly off after Votava got home, and at one point, one of the passengers opened the car door and ran off, jumping over a fence.
She called authorities, but never knew what became of the "unnerving" incident.
"That's when I knew we needed a neighborhood watch," she said. "So I got my walking shoes on and started walking the neighborhood and everyone seemed to think it was a good idea."
The kickoff block watch party for the Macie Loop neighborhood, featuring food, games, even face painting, will be from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4. Those interested should call (832) 585-7743.
Coeur d'Alene has more than 50 active Block Watch groups with hundreds of neighbors that participate. The goal is to get everyone involved as more would help deter criminals, police said.
"It'd be nice to have 100 percent of the city in a Block Watch," Longo said. "But every time we do one of these I look at it as it's one more step to solving crime or keeping crime from happening, keeping people from becoming victims. That's the whole goal."
Residents interested in the Block Watch program can call Wood at 769-2320.