They are watching you, your house and your routine. That was the warning from Dunkirk Police Department Chief David Ortolano and lieutenants Mark Polowy and Rich Kaus to city residents who turned out at the Senior Center for a communitywide meeting on the need for a neighborhood watch approach to crime fighting.
Ortolano began by saying he would like the meeting to be an exchange on what the department needs from the public, and what the department can do to help the public to make the community safer.
"I think it's important for us, and when I say this don't take it in the wrong way, but crime prevention and criminal problems aren't the police department's problems; they're community problems. ... I'm going to be the first one to sit here and tell you, we can't do it without the help of the community," the chief explained. "We need the people, we need our citizens, we need the people out that are seeing what's going on to be, as I've coined it from day one, the eyes and ears of the community."
City of Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano (left) and Lt. Mark Polowy talked about neighbors helping neighbors by staying aware and notifying police when necessary as a needed help in fighting crime in the city.
"Without that, we can't do our job. We try to do the best we can. I'm not going to sit here tonight and get up on a soapbox and tell you that we've solved everything and we have the answers to everything, because to be honest with you, we don't. We do go out and try to do the best we can and keep the community safe. Having the community behind us and watching what's going on and reporting what's going on and giving us what we need, believe me, it makes our job a hell of a lot easier. There's no question about it."
Ortolano said the number one priority in a neighborhood watch is the safety of the people.
"I don't want anyone to go out and get themselves in a situation where they put their own safety at risk because that doesn't make it any better for any of us. It doesn't help anything we're trying to do," he added. "Eyes and ears of the community is what we're looking for from the citizens and neighborhoods."
The chief cited a First Ward neighborhood that works together keeping an eye on each other and the properties and said having neighbors who know each other's routines and are willing to pay attention to what's going on is key. Alerting police immediately is another key.
"Don't wait until the next day, two weeks later, three weeks later. ... There's not much we're going to do about it a day later, two weeks later, three weeks later," Ortolano explained. "I would much rather send a police car down to check somebody out and have them say, 'it's the homeowner, it's the child, it's the repair guy,' whatever the issue is, rather that have someone call the next day and say, 'gee my house got broken into.'"
Descriptions of clothing, vehicles and direction of travel are key pieces of information the police can use. The department also maintains a housewatch list which a resident can get on by filling out a form at City Hall or by printing it from the city's website and bringing it in. The information is used by the department to keep an eye on temporarily vacant homes.
Polowy is the afternoon shift commander. He said callers providing as much detail as possible helps police responding to a scene.
"If you see what's going on keep the phone right in your hand. Look out your door, look out the window and stay on the phone with the desk officer," he stated. "When we're coming into the area if that person starts to leave the area it will allow the desk sergeant to transmit to us over the police radio not only the description, but any vehicle description and description of the person and if they're leaving, in what direction. That can put us hot on their trail from the start."
Besides staying alert, Polowy said the best thing is to make it difficult for burglars.
"You can't control somebody's desire to commit a crime. ... You can't control tier ability to commit a crime. Either they know how to go about being criminal or they don't," he explained. "The only thing you have control over as a citizen is their opportunity to commit a crime. ... Don't let them do it to you. Make yourself a more difficult target for them."
Polowy said 49 out of 50 times they respond to a vehicle entry where items have been stolen, the vehicle was unlocked or the window was left open. He added the police don't know everyone and where they live.
"You know who lives in your neighborhood and who doesn't, you know better than anybody," he said. "When somebody looks out of place, pick up the phone and call us."
Polowy added police would rather make extra trips than miss catching a criminal.
Getting people to take a stand is part of the problem. Kaus said the detectives talk to a lot of people who want to speak "off the record." He added callers' names are not released but the information is needed.
"Our job is to follow up on things. ... We knock on a lot of doors and then we get a lot more information," he stated. "When people come to us and say off the record, that's good intelligence for us. That's good information for us, but they've got to understand that we can't go and make an arrest on information when it's off the record. ... Off the record doesn't do us any good in court.
"What we know is not what we can prove sometimes. We know a lot of who's doing what out there, but proof's something different."
Ortolano said the police would like everyone to be willing to be a witness, but times and people have changed.
"The best thing you could do for somebody in your neighborhood is to be willing to go that extra mile and actually sit down and give the police a statement as to what you saw," Polowy added. "Because you would want your neighbor to do that for you if you were the victim, wouldn't you?"
The department desk can be reached at 366-2266 while the confidential tip line number is 363-0313.
Arlene Langendorfer has been involved with Neighborhood Watch in the city from the beginning and said she still watches and calls.
"Word gets around real fast that you're not going to deal drugs in this neighborhood. ... You just have to take a stand," she stated.
Other attendees cited neighborhood issues and concerns, particularly the impact of drugs, which Ortolano cited as a major concern for the police and the cause of many of the breakins in the area. Informational materials were taken by many attendees as they headed for home and another night of paying attention to the world outside their four walls.
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