Thursday, August 7, 2014
Greenhurst residents peered out of doorways and from porches as the wail and blaring honk of a fire truck echoed through the neighborhood.
It wasn't an emergency – it was the culmination of National Night Out, with an Old Fort fire truck, Dorchester County Sheriff's Office truck and Greenhurst crime watch members circling the neighborhood in a show of law enforcement-citizen solidarity.
The Greenhurst crime watch group has been active for about four years, and there's been a noticeable decrease in crime in the last few years, said crime watch member David Williams.
He attributed the decrease to residents being willing to call the non-emergency number when they see unusual or suspicious activity.
That's exactly the type of help law enforcement needs, said Chief Deputy Sam Richardson.
“We're only as effective as the citizens help us to be,” he said.
The sheriff's office sent an extra 17 cars out on the road – reserve deputies and command staff – to drive through neighborhoods and visit crime watch groups holding events.
In neighborhoods throughout Summerville the scene was similar – enticing smells wafting up from big charcoal grills, corn hole game boards and other such activities set up nearby, children playing, adults enjoying a relaxing evening.
In the Lakes of Summerville, residents started showing up early, said organizer and Neighborhood Watch Committee member Maggie Adams.
“I think we'll have a good turnout,” she said. “We expect a lot of people – we've had quite a few show up before we officially started.”
Adams, like many others, said National Night Out is something that needs more exposure.
“It's something you might not know about unless you get involved with it,” she said. “I had never heard of it until I got on the crime watch committee.”
In Gahagan, the scene was a block party atmosphere, with neighbors lounging in yards and children playing in the blocked-off street. A line of event tents on one side sheltered an ample buffet line, and at the top of the street, various emergency vehicles were parked.
While Gahagan has a number of community events, this was the first time in several years the neighborhood put together an event for National Night Out, said Crime Watch chair Ruth Yeomans.
“I just wanted to do something to get the neighborhood together, and to get everyone to appreciate what our police, fire, and emergency people do for us,” Yeomans said.
She also thanked the police department for its help with Gahagan's neighborhood watch efforts.
“You guys do a great job,” said Summerville Police Capt. Roger Pierce, who put in appearances at several area events.
At Doty Field, a somewhat last-minute change of plans by four organizers turned into a massive neighborhood celebration with more than 250 people attending, said Dexcter Mack of the Summerville Branch of the NAACP. Mack said the NAACP, Summerville Town Councilman Aaron Brown, Antwonn Gathers, and Serenity Mortuary decided to join forces this year and put on a community Back To School event for area communities such as the Brownsville neighborhood; the original date was rained out so they decided to reschedule for National Night Out.
“We put it out on Facebook and got quite a bit of response from people who said they were coming,” Mack said. “It really has been quite a turnout.”
Gathers, who has put together National Night Out events for several years, said he was pleased and excited with this year's turnout.
“This is something I thought about a few years ago,” Gathers said. “I grew up here – I saw all the violence and the crime – and I decided to try to do something. I wanted to get everyone together and show that not everyone is out here committing crimes, and that together we can change things.”
Brown said the event is meant to bring awareness to the community about crime prevention – and the one thing the community must do is cooperate with law enforcement.
“We have to cooperate with the police to bring down the crime rate – there is no other way to get it.”
In Calomet Valley, members of one of the state's oldest continuously-active crime watches got together for food and fellowship along with deputies.
Barbara Vaughn and Don Fisher said crime has been down in the last few years, and they credited the activity of the crime watch group.
Lt. Junior Barnhill said the key is an active group that remains active, even as criminal activity starts to decrease.
Barnhill is the sheriff's office liaison to community groups and provides neighborhood crime statistics and crime prevention tips to the groups.
His #1 tip: lock your car. Also, don't leave valuables in your car.
He advises residents to keep bushes and trees trimmed so they can easily see outside, and says people can let the sheriff's office know when they'll be out of town, so patrols can keep an eye on their empty home.
Barnhill tells people to be observant. If they see something suspicious, they should call the non-emergency number with as much detail as possible: details on what the person looks like, what the car looks like, and even a tag number if possible.
Barnhill was on hand for what was probably one of the most popular events of the evening: a K9 demonstration in King's Grant.
Residents gasped as Rony the German shepherd dashed at lightning speed toward the unlucky deputy chosen to act as “decoy.”
The sheriff's office dogs train continuously; they exhibit single-minded enthusiasm for chasing down the bad guy, even ignoring their favorite toys, yet they will immediately halt at a voice command from their handler.
The White Gables neighborhood also experienced a large and enthusiastic turnout, with some 200 people turning out for the event.
The event included plenty of food, prize giveaways, games for children, and good fellowship for all, event organizers said.
“It was a great turnout,” Rob Dahlman said. “This was our first National Night Out event and it really went very well. We had great support from our sponsors and the community.”
“At first we were kind of sitting here wondering if anyone was coming,” Keri Whitaker said. “Then all of a sudden around six, you could see the people just pouring out of their houses.”