BP Crime Watch Program volunteers extra eyes and ears for police

Published Aug 1, 2013 at 11:47 am (Updated Aug 1, 2013 at 11:47 am)

The volunteers with the Bethel Park Crime Watch Program know exactly what they are supposed to do, and they do it well.

“We’re vigilant without being vigilantes,” said Dick Kraft.

The group, which was organized about a year and a half ago by Bethel Park Police Officer Tom Rigatti, has already been credited with contributing to several arrests.

“We have 1,014 sets of eyes watching,” Rigatti said.

The group holds four meetings a year to exchange information and ideas. Rigatti also often arranges for speakers to talk to the group about topics of interest.

The next meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Bethel Park Community Center. New volunteers are welcome, and Rigatti’s goal is to eventually have at least 1,500 volunteers.

Crime watch volunteers learn how to be good witnesses so that they can be helpful to police officers who can not be everywhere. They are also taught to report, but never to try to stop a crime.

“We want them to call us and let us do our job,” Rigatti said. “We don’t want them to take actions on their own.”

Rigatti said the department, whose officers can not be everywhere, depends upon the resident volunteers, who know their neighborhoods and their neighbors and know when something suspicious is happening.

The Bethel Park Crime Watch is the only one in the South Hills area as far as he knows, Rigatti said.

It differs from programs like the one George Zimmerman belonged to in Florida, the Bethel Park officer explained.

“In Florida, they have active patrols,” Rigatti explained. “We don’t.”

“(Officer Rigatti) emphasizes all the time that we are not to be proactive,” said Cheryl Moore. “We don’t want to be like George Zimmerman. We can be the eyes, but we don’t handle things on our own.”

It’s important to watch out for your neighbors and to be aware of what is going on, Moore said. “I think (neighbors watching out for each other) does make a difference. We try to watch out for the elderly and the ones who live alone.”

“Look what happened up there in Ohio,” she added, referring to the incident where three women were being held captive in a home in a residential area were rescued by a neighbor.

Among the many things Moore says she has learned through crime watch is that most burglars enter homes through a rear entrance, which police on patrol can not see from the street, but that the neighbors can view.

The new version of the crime watch program is much different from the one from years ago, said Kraft, who volunteered with the former program.

“I used to have to take the bulletins door-to-door,” he said.

Rigatti uses email and the police department’s Swift Reach telephone program to keep his volunteers instantly in the loop about happenings in the area. He is also utilizing a program available through California University of Pennsylvania to map out areas hit by crime and to target where volunteers are needed.

Most important though, are those eyes out in the community.

“I always try to be helpful,” said Kraft. “Everyone should.”

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