Neighborhood watches in Collier taught to watch their step, call law officers

Lexey Swall/Staff 
 John Richardson is the Neighborhood Watch coordinator for his community in Riviera Golf Estates in East Naples. Richardson and others in the community are 'window watchers,' so to speak, instead of actively patrolling, they're aware of when their neighbors are gone and watch out for one and other.

Photo by LEXEY SWALL, Naples Daily News

Lexey Swall/Staff John Richardson is the Neighborhood Watch coordinator for his community in Riviera Golf Estates in East Naples. Richardson and others in the community are "window watchers," so to speak, instead of actively patrolling, they're aware of when their neighbors are gone and watch out for one and other.

— On Neighborhood Watch signs, the suspicious stranger is officially known as Boris the Burglar, a silhouetted suspect whose slatted eyes peek out from the underside of his fedora.

But in most neighborhoods, he's known simply as "the bad guy" – and not everyone knows what to do when they see him.

In the East Naples community of Riviera Golf Estates, where there's a Neighborhood Watch captain on every block, residents are told to avoid a confrontation and call the Collier County Sheriff's Office directly to come check things out, Neighborhood Watch coordinator John Richardson said.

"If you see somebody driving by five times that you don't recognize, then you call a deputy," he said. "You don't run out in front of him and say, 'Hey! What are you doing here?'"

In the wake of a confrontation that pitted 17-year-old Trayvon Martin against Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford in late Februry, local Neighborhood Watch coordinators are emphasizing to residents that they're there to help law enforcement officers – not to try to be them.

Collier County authorities haven't yet encountered any hopeful vigilantes, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Natalie Felber said, likely because the agency's Crime Prevention Unit tells Neighborhood Watch groups to let trained law enforcement officers be the ones to investigate possible problems.

"We stress that constantly," said Barry Gerenstein, who heads up the Neighborhood Watch in the VeronaWalk community in East Naples. "Don't follow anybody; you're not a policeman. When you see something wrong, call the Sheriff's Office."

How many of his neighbors had weapons permits, Gerenstein couldn't say – it simply hasn't been an issue.

"I have no idea," he said. "But one of the things Neighborhood Watch doesn't teach is to go out and get a gun."

Gated community security guards contracted out by the Naples-based Barefoot Security Systems typically aren't armed either, said Kevin Gerrity, director of operations.

"When I hire people, I tell them we are not here to wrestle with bad guys or anything like that," he said. "We're here to keep an eye on things and observe. If we have some kind of imminent threat, then they will intervene. That's not something that's typical."

A packet that the Collier County Sheriff's Office hands out to Neighborhood Watch members emphasizes that civilians shouldn't put themselves in harm's way by confronting, questioning or detaining a suspect in their communities. Members also are asked to "refrain from reporting just because of difference (in) ethnic background, religious belief, race, etc."

In many cases, the "bad guy" doesn't even look suspicious, as in recent cases of burglars pretending to look for their dogs or handing out Bibles while actually casing various Collier County neighborhoods.

"Suspicious behavior is justifiably in the eye of the beholder," said Sgt. Rebecca Gonzalez, who works in the sheriff's crime prevention unit. "We train on what could be considered suspicious and how to get a good witness description or vehicle description ... We repeatedly instruct (volunteers) not to detain or confront people."

It's an M.O. that has worked well for those who live at Riviera Golf Estates, said Fred Marvin, a former Neighborhood Watch chairman who has lived in the community for about 30 years and who helped install Boris the Burglar signs at the neighborhood's entrances.

"Anybody who wants to do harm, if they see the Neighborhood Watch sign around, they are reluctant to go in there," he said.

And while all residents are encouraged to be a part of the safety group, Marvin and Richardson, the current chairman, want their neighbors to know the difference between noticing trouble and going out looking for it.

"We're not snoops, and we're not busy bodies," Richardson said. "We look out of windows instead of into windows."

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Related Stories

Related Links

Comments » 25

Patton writes:

Excellent advice, this way no one will be murdered by some guy wanting to play policeman.

Coastal writes:

This is a good idea. Sometimes leftists tent to take things a little too far feeling their self imposed superiority.

sunburnt writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

stonnerjohnnyII writes:

in response to sunburnt:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sick writes:

Ok where are all the "they will meet my colt" or "they will be looking down my 12 guage"?

LOL

Colorado (Inactive) writes:

The cop wannabe's in Wyndemere really need to stay in Wyndemere and not roam where they don't need to be.

Sick writes:

Members also are asked to "refrain from reporting just because of difference (in) ethnic background, religious belief, race, etc."

Now I wonder who they are talking about here? And why would they even need to say it if they were not a problem?

hmmmmmmmmmmmmm?

wentfishn writes:

I tried callin about a suspicious person awhile back, think I woke him up from his nap, what a waste of time that was, what a jerk.

wentfishn writes:

If he was smart he should have at least sounded interested. duhhh

Heraclitus writes:

Arm everyone... God will sort them out when they meet Him.

(With apologies to Innocent III)

Patton writes:

in response to General_Rancor:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You are correct, it was raining. Some people only see what they want to see. Armchair Rambo is a perfect description.

tacony19 writes:

in response to Patton:

You are correct, it was raining. Some people only see what they want to see. Armchair Rambo is a perfect description.

His gated community experienced 6-7 break-ins recently. So much for the police protecting the homeowners. Maybe he was just a concerned neighbor trying to help protect his community. What happened was tragic, but as the saying goes,"no good deed goes unpunished." He should have just stayed home typing on his computer making smart a _ _ comments and prejudging others. You know, playing it safe...

MisterK writes:

The neighborhood 'Zimmerman' here has a Lark with beefed-up suspension and a gun rack. "Stand yer ground".

volochine writes:

I saw a Ford F-150 truck Friday at the Sam's Club parking lot labeled with huge letters, "Neighborhood Watch". That truck was a deterrent, in my opinion.

Did Mr. Zimmerman's truck have the same lettering?

canonfire writes:

yeah sure !! By the time you call and those lazy,donut stuffing CCSD Doops get there..the assailant or what ever is gone...!! Lets put it this way..If I see someone breaking in my neighbors house or car or assaulting another person..he'll have to deal with me and Mr. 44 Magnum ! Time to take care of business when no one else will !!!!

dab writes:

"Neighborhood watches in Collier taught to watch their step, call law officers "......

Yes, but be prepared. Criminals know the law favors them during the act of commiting the crime. I think that allowing a few warning or "pot-shots" by watch groups and property owners would go a long way and make criminals think twice before acting. A little "prevention" goes a long way.

wonderful (Inactive) writes:

in response to fingerbang:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I think it has something to do with if it is trademarked or not, eh?

OP writes:

Great story...for potential thieves to read. Now they know where to go and how to behave to avoid notice. At Riviera Golf Estates, even if they see someone suspicious fear not thief, they may call you in, but will then bury their heads allowing you to get inside without notice and you can watch the police cruise by harmlessly on empty streets.

This also gives me an opportunity to add one fact from the Zimmerman event that tends to lend credence to the fact that he was trying to do the right thing; he did call the police. If he wanted to indiscriminately pursue and shoot blacks he would not have called for backup.

NaplesforHim writes:

The Martin case is a tragedy,but Shapton and Jesse Jackson are trying to make it into a race dividing case. What happened that night by one neighborhood watch person is being used to paint all whites as racists (and the guy is half hispanic)-- it is not a trend, but a lone indicident. Meanwhile, an African American is much more at risk from being shot by a fellow African American, so their riots make no sense. There are so many cases of out and out murder of African American teens by African Americans -- to a point it is an epidemic-- a definite trend -- yet no publicity by the Shaprton crowds.

And yes, a black teen was shot in Atlanta by two African America security guards and no one is talking about it:
http://www.thegrio.com/local/atlanta/...

unfatcat writes:

It is ironic that some of the public seek vigilante justice on Zimmerman for a situation that has not been deemed a crime; while the public accuses Zimmerman of being a vigilante racist. Double-standard.

Zimmerman was not "following;" he was watching where the unfamiliar person was going. Is it a crime to watch a person now? If so, no one should ever get involved in the betterment of their community. Just pay attention to yourself and only yourself or you could find yourself being beat up by someone, and defending yourself, and then being persecuted by everyone. It's not worth getting involved.

martinm_1 writes:

THIS IS MY PERSONAL OPINION,GEORGE WILL BE NOT INDICATED,HE DID WHAT HE HAD TO DO,OR DIE.IF ALL BLACK PEOPLE WANT TO BE GANGSTERS AND ACT LIKE THAT,AND WHITE KIDS TO,THIS COULD BE YOU NEXT.

HAL9000 writes:

"Neighborhood Watch" has become just one more kind of "Mean Justice" in America:

http://www.angelfire.com/la/cyberwrit...

canonfire writes:

in response to Sick:

Ok where are all the "they will meet my colt" or "they will be looking down my 12 guage"?

LOL

Right here !! Any hoods out there want to test me !!!!!! I'll even give you an address to go to !!!

wonderful (Inactive) writes:

in response to Damyankee:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Not to worry they lock this guy up at night.

During the day he is an obama sign shaker.

SAAD!

Dreaming writes:

The Sheriff department really does respond to these "suspicious person" calls fast. If a neighborhood Rambo confronts or follows the criminal he/she will run off the person and then the Sheriff will refuse to respond to these calls too. Lets not ruin a good thing (Officer Response) by running off the bad guy before the Sheriff gets there.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features