A crowd of approximately 200 local and seasonable Port O’Connor residents listened to and questioned Calhoun County Sheriff George Aleman and his deputies at a town hall meeting on Saturday morning at the Community Center. In what was, at times, a contentious discussion around the recent spate of home and boat storage burglaries, the sheriff urged POC residents to take additional measures to deter crime.
According to Sheriff’s Department investigators, there have been eight to nine home burglaries in the last three months in Port O’Connor. There have been many more break-ins of boat storages and commercial buildings. Deputy Sheriff Scott Stanfield added, “weekenders are getting hit the hardest by burglaries.” Although investigators state that there is no clear pattern as to time of day or day of the week to the burglaries, most thefts involve high-end electronics, including flatscreen TVs and home stereo systems.
The focus of the town hall meeting, arranged by the sheriff’s department, was to encourage local residents to form neighborhood watch groups. The sheriff’s department provided handouts of information on how to organize neighborhood watch groups. A local committee was announced by resident, Joe Wiatt, which met afterwards to begin the process of forming the anti-crime groups.
When the floor was opened to questions, many residents voiced concerns that there was not enough sheriff’s department presence in the Port O’Connor area. The department assured residents that there was increased presence of late, primarily due to the recent burglaries and thefts. However, the department usually has only three patrol officers on each shift, covering the entire county of Calhoun. As officers respond to calls, they are sometimes pulled away from the POC area to respond. Sheriff Aleman stated that he would welcome the opportunity to have more patrols in the area, but was limited by budget constraints. Strains on the department’s resources are expected to increase, according to Aleman, when an LNG plant to be built elsewhere in the county brings in up to 2,500 additional construction personnel in 2014.
For those concerned about how money is spent by the county on law enforcement, the audience was encouraged to attend county commissioner court meetings. “More people should show up,” suggested Sheriff department investigator, Renette Todd.
The sheriff also urged residents to call 911 anytime they saw suspicious activity in the area, “I would rather have a call and nothing to it, then something happened and no call.”
Among the recommendations offered by sheriffs deputies, was the installation of inexpensive game cameras in and around residences, with Stanfield calling the cameras, “the cheapest home security system.” Of course, capturing a thief on video doesn’t deter the crime, but it does help investigators catch those who are stealing from homes and businesses.
Sheriff’s investigator, Bobby Vickery, told the audience that a Department of Public Safety investigator had been assigned to help the department indict the thieves. He stated that they have some good, strong leads, but could not disclose specifics that might jeopardize the investigations.
Todd spoke of the Crimestoppers program, which allows persons with information on crime to call anonymously. If the tip leads to an arrest, said Todd, “there is a cash reward.” The number to call if a citizen does have information on a crime or criminal, is (361) 552-CASH (2274). Added Todd, “we will respond to any information you give to us.”
Some residents attending the meeting questioned the sheriff on legal rights as a homeowner to protect one’s property. While it is legal to take means to protect yourself and your family from imminent danger, the Sheriff warned citizens that use of lethal force is not acceptable in non life-threatening situations. “You have the right to detain a suspect until we can arrive — all day long,” said Aleman, “but you can’t just shoot someone because they’re stealing from your neighbor’s house.”
Local activist, Joe Wiatt, asked and received support for the formation of a neighborhood watch committee to help coordinate the formation of watch groups, signage and information. Aleman added that the Precinct 4 County Commissioner, Kenneth Finster, who was in attendance, would have the county install any purchased neighborhood watch signs at the county’s expense; residents would have to purchase the signs, though. Several residents met with Wiatt after the town hall meeting to begin the committee formation process.
For more information about neighborhood watch programs, go to www.nnwi.org. If you’re interested in participating in the local neighborhood watch initiative, contact Joe Wiatt at (361) 983-4910.