National Night Out raises profile of watchful eyes
SCHENECTADY Sean Allen is a neighbor you’d want. Luckily, in his role as a Schenectady Neighborhood Watch captain, he is the neighbor that many residents wind up with when their loved ones go missing.
When a 3-year-old was abducted from an Avenue B home in the winter of 2010, Allen — who lives in the city’s Mont Pleasant neighborhood — showed up at the doorstep to help.
“It was the dead of winter, so they called us out instantly,” said Allen. “We got here but things just didn’t sound right from what the parents were saying and what the officer was telling us. It didn’t sit right with me. So I backtracked to the house, and in talking to the mother it finally came out that her boyfriend brought a friend over and when everybody was asleep, the friend decided to take the kid with him.”
Schenectady Neighborhood Watch President Fred Lee is right when he says that finding a missing person is more of an art than a science for his volunteers.
In Allen’s case, it was his intuition that helped catch the abductor and bring the child home. He was able to give the car’s make and model to police, who tracked the abductor to Nott Street. During his own patrol, Allen was able to follow the car when police lost sight of it and vice versa. They eventually boxed the man in on Salina Street, and he was arrested, the child returned home safe and sound.
On Tuesday, Allen and his fellow Neighborhood Watch volunteers marched the streets of the city’s Goose Hill neighborhood to raise awareness of what they do, for police and government agencies and for crime prevention in general. The event was one of thousands across the country Tuesday, held in celebration of the 30th annual National Night Out, sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch.
Schenectady joined Amsterdam, Clifton Park, Albany and Guilderland in hosting its own National Night Out event in the Capital Region. While some of these involve children’s activities, food and drinks, K-9 unit demonstrations, pony rides, face painting and more, Schenectady’s event was as bare-bones as it gets. Several dozen people, including Mayor Gary McCarthy and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, showed up to Steinmetz Park just before sunset to talk about neighborhood issues and lead a march through the neighborhood.
“Last year, crimes were down just under 10 percent, and this year, so far we’re running down around 20 percent,” said McCarthy. “Those are significant numbers, and it shows that working together we can get results. And we’re seeing that with the police department working with codes, with the Law Department, with Neighborhood Watch, with community groups, so that we’re getting that message out and we’re creating value in the neighborhoods. We know that there are problems there and we just are working at it in a systematic, ongoing matter.”
More than 300 residents are volunteers with Schenectady Neighborhood Watch, said group president Fred Lee. Most come from the Bellevue and Mont Pleasant neighborhoods, but every city neighborhood has some representation in the watch. Ideally, he would like to see 1,000 volunteers in the watch so that one in every 60 residents has the training to help prevent crime and lend reassurance to their community.
“I would guess probably 20 percent of what we do has to do with crime,” he said. “The rest of what we do has to do with fire prevention. We found over 100 lost children last year and we generally will find about 10 to 15 lost adults in a year. And then the balance of our time is assisting during any storms we might have, like the tornado that set down in the Bellevue neighborhood this year.”
The main reason Lee organizes a march instead of other events for National Night Out is because many residents don’t even know the city has a Neighborhood Watch. By literally walking through their community, they have a chance to make people aware.
That much was evident Tuesday evening, as children pressed their noses to windows and screen doors and residents stepped out to their sidewalks to ask questions of the group. Kids yelled “Thank you police!” at the men in uniform with holstered guns and flashlights, and the residents who spotted Neighborhood Watch spelled across a glow-in-the-dark vest offered their own thanks to the group.
Allen headed up the back of the group, watching for stragglers and exchanging traffic updates over a radio with Lee, who led the march.
“I got started in this probably seven years ago,” he said. “A friend of mine was a Schenectady cop and he mentioned it to me, and so I got in contact with Fred and he signed me up. I did it, well, for my kids. God forbid anything happens to them. I’d want somebody out there looking.”