Houma PD: Neighborhood Watch making a difference locally

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When Houma Police Chief Todd Duplantis speaks before community groups, his mention of the city department’s partnership with neighborhood watch groups draws applause.

And Duplantis can’t say enough about the work community members have done to organize such groups and keep them functioning.

“I believe neighborhood watch groups play a big role in crime rates,” said Duplantis, whose crime numbers have been taking a fall.

When Duplantis became chief in 2008 there were two neighborhood watch groups. He assigned Police Officer Lee Lyons to coordinate the Neighborhood Watch program, and it increased to 25 groups by 2010. In 2015, there are 33 groups, and Duplantis hopes to see more.

“We now have three Neighborhood Watch groups in Mechanicville and one in Daniel Turner Trailer Court,” the police chief said. “In 2011, we had the biggest violent crime reduction since 1985, and now, in 2015, we are on course for the biggest crime reduction yet.”

The relationship between police and Neighborhood Watch groups is a two-way street.

“We report crimes to them occurring within their neighborhood so they can be aware of what’s going on and report suspicious activities to us and in return, they report to us problems within their community so we can address them properly,” Duplantis said. “We also teach the public how to protect themselves at meetings.”

The City of Thibodaux has some Neighborhood Watch groups, but utilizes a different community outreach strategy.

“They are more self-contained and self-sustained, but we have an open line of communication between them,” said Officer David Melancon, a Thibodaux Police Department spokesman. “We are working with the watch groups and all of our partners in the community who are submitting information, giving tips and being helpful. We need that information in a constant flow.”

In Houma, the Neighborhood Watch framework has a high-tech element, with surveillance cameras of residences playing a role in relaying information to police when necessary.

When Duplantis first became chief, relations between police and communities within the city, he says, were not always as close as they are now.

One Levron Street resident, Myra Drury, wrote to him after he made a community meeting appearance, applauding what appeared to be an outreach for partnership.

“We’ve all called HPD repeatedly and reported everything we could, but sometimes with less than positive results,” Drury’s 2008 letter states. “Don’t get me wrong, there were some officers who went out of their way to help us, but I think they were given a job to do with their hands tied. I was told by one officer several months ago that all they could do was be reactive in fighting crime. It seems as though that’s changing and that HPD is becoming more proactive.”

Drury has since left the Levron Street area, but said she did see positive change occur as the Neighborhood Watch group grew.

Many of today’s Neighborhood Watch groups are linked to the police by more than a telephone. Surveillance cameras mounted to homes on city streets are in some cases linked to the city’s own network, enhancing investigations.

Neighborhood Watch programs, Duplantis said, also provide an opportunity for the police to funnel non-crime quality of life complaints to the appropriate agency, cutting through red tape for residents.

“I think it’s become vital to the area,” said Neighborhood Watch captain Mary Lynn Stewart. “It gives citizens, neighbors, good interaction with the police.

“Years and years ago, if you said I personally would have two, three or four policemen sitting in my living room with my neighbors, I would not have said it was possible,” she continued. “What the Neighborhood Watch does it builds that partnership between police and neighborhoods. Over the past eight years, as Neighborhood Watches have grown so has that relationship. Even 10 or 12 years ago, people felt it wasn’t their place to get involved or didn’t know how to.”

Houma Police Chief Todd Duplantis making the rounds on Night Out Against Crime, which is linked to the city’s Neighborhood Watch program