In light of the shooting of 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fl., by a neighborhood watch captain in what he claimed was self-defense, national attention has been given to community safety and the relationships between the individual captains and their communities.
However, Redwood City’s approach to building community isn’t for residents to take law enforcement into their own hands, said Centennial Neighborhood Association chair David Amann. The chairs are encouraged to work with the police department to provide information to residents so the community can be as safe as possible.
“The difference is that we trust our community,” he said. “In contrast [to Sanford, Fl.] where some residents don’t have trust in the city’s enforcement and tried to insulate themselves from it.”
An example, Amann provided, was when some Redwood City residents walked the streets with a petition to try to change ’s hours to align more with the police department’s schedule. Residents wanted the police to be able to more easily respond to any incidents.
“Rather than following someone around with a gun and shooting people, residents tried to resolve the issue peacefully with a petition and then take it to our local government,” Amann said.
The city is divided into 11 neighborhoods, each with its own chair who voluntarily signs up. There are no specific rules and each neighborhood meets at various frequency, from once a month to whenever a need arises.
Community Affairs officer Diana Villegas explained that there are a number of responsibilities associated with the job and that any resident willing to undertake the task can. She acts as a liaison between the police department and the chairs, providing information, statistics and trends at meetings if the chairs request it.
Amann runs quarterly neighborhood meetings, but also engages neighbors and keeps them aware of issues at the city and county level. When San Mateo County next to the Centennial neighborhood, for example, Amann said he worked to make sure the community was aware of the purchase.
Some chairs, like Amann, hope to even create bylaws for their neighborhood to address specific issues.
Neighborhood Association Chairs vs. Neighborhood Watch Captains
On March 15, the city held a “Neighborhood Organizing 101” event to outline the many ways residents can get involved. The purpose was to introduce residents to their neighbors and open up communication within the community, according to city spokesman Malcolm Smith.
About 30 people attended, including Police Chief JR Gamez and Officer Villegas, plus a few residents from San Mateo and Alameda who wanted to gain a better sense of how Redwood City runs their neighborhood organizations.
In addition to the Neighborhood Associations, Redwood City has a few dozen Neighborhood Watch programs, which comprise of smaller areas of only a few blocks. These residents also voluntarily sign up to be the captains of the area, according to Villegas.
To foster a sense of community, these captains can apply for city funds of up to $300 for a neighborhood sign and to host a small event with refreshments.
“I recommend that you email or call your chair,” Villegas said of how residents can get involved. “They always love new members.”
To find out who your neighborhood chair is, enter your zip code on the Police Department's website.
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