Creating neighborhood watches in a rural community is much different than in an urban area. Neighbors are farther away from each other and may not notice something suspicious in their area.
At the Newman Lake SCOPE station, if a problem picks up in the community, they bring out sheriff’s detectives to talk to the residents. These meetings are very well attended and often result in the problem going away.
Patty Altermatt, president of the station, said a few years ago, there was a big problem with meth labs. When the detective visited with residents, he informed them about what neighbors should look for if they suspect a meth lab – most notably, a strong cat-urine smell will surround the lab.
This motivated the members to do something about it. Altermatt said many SCOPE members sat in their marked cars near the houses which amped up the station’s visibility in the community, especially to the criminals.
“The meth problem has gone away,” Altermatt said. “We were just angry.”
Right now, the area is experiencing an uptick in fraudulent construction workers using strong-arm tactics to persuade homeowners to hire them to complete paving services or roofing jobs. Often they say the materials were left over from a bigger job, promising a discount, but the work is shoddy and they often cost the homeowner more money down the road.
Residents have also reported that members of the construction crew will break into the home if the homeowner is outside watching the work being done and will burglarize the homeowner. The SCOPE station is now alerting residents to be on the lookout for these workers.
The community has also created relationships between the SCOPE station, the Firefighters Auxiliary and the Grange. Many members of one group are members of another group. The three groups often team up for fundraisers and various other activities in Newman Lake.
Their calendar is busy, as well. Over the Fourth of July weekend, SCOPE and the fire auxiliary sold hot dogs at the intersection of Trent Avenue and Starr Road.
“Sometimes the train will stop to get hot dogs,” Altermatt said.
They also combine for the annual Newman Lake Barn Dance in September. At this event, SCOPE will give away reflective address signs which make it easier for emergency responders to find addresses in the area. The signs usually cost $15 – another fundraiser for the station.
Coming later this month, the station will co-host the annual SCOPE picnic for all 18 SCOPE stations in the county. It will also present a shred day on July 30. In conjunction with the shred day, the Grange will have a yard sale from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Programs at the SCOPE station include Citizens on Patrol, in which members drive through the community looking for suspicious activities and checking on homes of residents on vacation.
There is the Vial of Life program started by member Tom Rulffes, which provides people with a plastic container to place medical records or lists of medications. The container is placed inside the resident’s freezer and stickers alert emergency responders of the container.
Members make phone calls to crime victims to check on them. They will visit residents who have experienced vehicle break-ins and take fingerprints. They monitor registered sex offenders who have moved into the neighborhood. They direct traffic around structure fires or accidents to keep rubberneckers clear of the area. They identify abandoned cars and help get them removed.
It is a busy group, but members would like more volunteers. The station opened in 1999 with about 45 active members, but that number has dropped to about 25 today. The office is only open two days a week due to declining membership.
“We’re low on members,” Altermatt said. “We do a lot. We’re a very active group.”
She said she joined the station because she wanted to do something for her community – a sentiment which was shared by other members of the group.
“It’s because we believe in it,” she said. “We believe in this community.”