MANASSAS, Va. - Several Prince William County residents showed up for neighborhood watch training Monday evening and you may be surprised by what they were told. The training comes on the heels of a rash of recent robberies at 7-Eleven stores in the county.
But the robbers are striking more than area convenience stores. Some local residents said they are taking over their neighborhoods as well.
However, newly-installed neighborhood watch signs are putting criminals on notice. And even though residents can be armed in Virginia, police said it is best for neighborhood watch members to remain unarmed while patrolling.
We spoke with several people who attended Monday night’s meeting and they all walked away with different tools to combat crime.
“Just learning how to react when something is going on, the active shooter situation, crime reporting,” said Manassas resident Mohamed Hassain. “What to do, what to look for, stuff that could look out of place, someone trying to open a door, broken glass, someone breaking into a house and how to react to that.”
“Things have been happening in the communities – burglaries and all kinds of different activities,” said Woodbridge resident Jerry Davis. “That would spur anyone in the community to want to do something about it.”
“I learned that there are a lot of things that we can do to keep ourselves safe,” said Dale City resident Shudine Covel. “I notice a lot of my neighbors have bushes in front of their doors where someone can easily hide, and that is something when we start the neighborhood watch, it will let them know that this is something they may want to trim down to keep themselves safe. And how to respond in case violence does show itself.”
Those who attended learned what is suspicious, how to report something suspicious and what to do when confronted with a crime.
According to police, an easy rule of thumb is to consider anything out of the norm for the neighborhood as suspicious. They were also provided contacts for the police department and advice on how to report a suspicious incident.
Most importantly, residents were told to tell law enforcement exactly what they see or hear without minimizing or embellishing the incident.
The training attracted residents from different neighborhoods for different reasons, such as increased burglaries, theft and violent fights.
Police said they have seen a resurgence of neighborhood watch groups and their goal is to make them effective.
“We don’t want them to be detaining or apprehending people. What we want from them is to observe behavior in their neighborhoods and contact the police if they feel it is necessary,” said Prince William County Police Sgt. Brad Cavender. “We hope that the impact it will have is getting more people on board with paying attention to their neighborhoods because the police can’t be in every neighborhood all the time and this allows us to have more information and get in there and help each of these communities be safer.”
Police also showed a Department of Homeland Security training video that focused on how to respond to an active shooter situation. It told residents to run, hide and fight. It is the same video being shown at universities across the country.
This was the first neighborhood watch training so far this year.