Peaceful, rural, attractive — the setting of Sixteenth Section in northwest Lonoke County easily lulls one into a sense of serenity. But it is also attractive in another sense, as opportunity for theft.
"I guess it is because of all the traffic on Highway 5. There is a lot of it going around out here," Bridgett McElhaney, a Sixteenth Section resident said. Enough so that residents are banding together to watch out for each other.
The group will have its fourth meeting on Thursday, Nov. 21, and, among other interests, will learn about drug enforcement by the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, and deputy Branden Hampton with assistant Patja, a trained drug detection dog.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Sixteenth Section Community Center, Arkansas Highway 319 west, about a half mile from Arkansas Highway 5.
McElhaney and fellow crime watch board of directors members Vickie Gunter and Richard Rogers explained why they felt a need to begin a community crime watch.
"We are out in the county, not an actual town, so it is kind of hard to get help out here, so we have to watch out for ourselves," McElhaney said.
"You heard about in town, but for a long time it was not out here," Rogers said. But the tough economy is forcing thieves farther out from town, and things are changing, he said.
"You can’t just leave stuff out anymore. But they are taking from people who don’t have anything anyway," and the theives are becoming quite brazen, he remarked.
In a recent instance, a neighbor who was using a chainsaw in his front yard, set the chainsaw down while he went in the house. "When he came back out, there was a guy on a four-wheeler picking the saw up. The guy just waved and drove off with the saw," Rogers recounted.
There is a description of the man, and the yellow ATV he was riding, but there has been no response. "Nobody’s seen him again," Rogers said.
Spurred by the spate of thefts, the Sixteenth Section Crime Watch was begun.
It began as keeping everyone aware through a Good Neighbors club, but that did not work, McElhaney said.
So she contacted Sheriff John Staley to learn what to do for a Neighborhood Crime Watch. The sheriff’s office has advised them, and deputies have come to two of the four meetings to speak, McElhaney said.
Rogers said he is trying to coordinate with the sheriff’s office for records of the area for an analysis of trends, but it has not happened yet.
"I want to compare the crime activity between our area and other areas and see if it is any worse here than other places. To see if we are making an impact with our crime watch," he said.
"We would like to see if the county can provide metal crimewatch signs for the roadsides," Gunter said. The group has purchased their own yard signs.
They are cautiously exploring what help is available, Rogers said. "We want to avoid too much governmental, bureaucracy entanglements," he said.
Initial interest in the crime watch has been high, McElhaney said. About 50 people responded to the flyers announcing the meeting.
There are no firm boundaries of the Sixteenth Section crime watch area, but the area is generally divided by Arkansas Highway 319, north to the countyline, south to DeBoer road, east to Sentell Road, and west to the Faulkner County line.
There is no patrolling by members, Gunter said.
"We just want everyone to be aware of what is going on around them. Know their neighbors. Know when to call for help," Gunter said. Confronting wrongdoers is left to law enforcement, she said.
Rogers said he became involved because of the crime he was hearing about. "I kept hearing through the grapevine how much crime was happening. [Neighbors] were getting bombarded," he said.
"It was getting to be too much, we had to do something," Rogers said.
Contacted later, Staley said community crime watches in the county are becoming almost necessary, "But [members] have to run it."
"We can be in just so many places; we have a lot of area to cover. [Crime watches] become our eyes and ears," Staley said.
"But that is all. Just eyes and ears. We tell them, ‘Do not engage,’" Staley said. "The best thing they can do is be good witnesses. Remember what you see. Write it down. Your memory can play tricks on you," he said.
McElhaney said the crime watch promotes writing down what people see. "Any time there is something suspicious or different. Write down descriptions license numbers," she said. "And just be a little bit nosey."
Residents in the Sixteenth Section are invited to any of the meetings, which are announced by flyers and on Facebook.
"There is a lot that we do on Facebook," McElhaney said. "[Facebook] has been really helpful."
Search on Facebook for the 16th Section Community Crime Watch, McElhaney said. "You have to use the ‘th’ with the numbers, she said.