The Pleasantville Community Neighborhood Watch is back.
A group of concerned citizens are partnering with police to "take back their streets" from criminals. Tremont Avenue resident Joe Mazzei, 67, said he and his wife, Sharon Stough, 70, started the community watch group in 2006, "out of self-preservation." But recent health issues forced both to take a break from actively organizing neighbors against crime.
"They say not to use the bike path after dark, but that's an insult," Mazzei said. "We can't just turn our neighborhood over to hoodlums."
The group meets at different venues throughout the city on the third Wednesday of each month. On July 21, about 40 area residents met with Pleasantville police, members of City Council and representatives from Crime Stoppers Atlantic County to share information and ideas on how to fight crime together.
Penny Baker, a lifelong resident of Pleasantville, said she and her friend came to the meeting because they want to help stop the violence in their hometown. The women said they have been "very active" in recent community events, including attending a recent series of prayers vigils, although they are not religious.
"We'd like to see some programs to get the kids involved and ask them what they think we should do," Baker said. "Kids these days are smart; sometimes they have some very good ideas. Plus, it will give them something to do in the summer. A lot of them have no place to go or anything to do."
Capt. Rocky Melendez, of the criminal investigation division, said residents recently have begun to work with police more to help solve violent crimes in the area. He credited a quick response from police and helpful bystanders with catching a suspect in a stabbing crime that happened the night before.
"People like you were willing to say, 'This is what we saw, that's where he went,' and within a couple of hours we had a suspect in custody," he said. "Since the last meeting … we've had better communication with the public and we've made a lot of arrests based on tips. We've been able to take guns off the streets, because of people like you. Maybe even some of you here have made anonymous tips that helped us. You're our eyes and ears on the street, you're the first on the scene, and your information is crucial."
Melendez praised Capt. Scott Seliga and the patrol division for "building a trust base" with the community, being more visible and handing out business cards and even personal cell phone numbers to potential witnesses. He said residents sometimes feel more comfortable reporting suspicious activity to someone they know, "but a few months ago, when people were getting shot, those cell phones were silent."
Seliga declined to address the crowd at length. Instead, "I bring my pad and pen and I listen," he said. Both captains and Police Chief Duane Comeaux encouraged witnesses or victims who fear reprisals to call Atlantic County Crime Stoppers or send an anonymous tip via e-mail.
Kevin Walsh, of Atlantic County Crime Stoppers, explained how the nonprofit organization works, reassuring the crowd that no phone calls or IP addresses can be traced, so tipsters remain anonymous even to Crime Stoppers. Walsh said the number of solid leads from the tip line has increased recently, and explained how the rewards work.
Mayor Jesse L. Tweedle Sr. called on constituents to get more involved. He said the city has mailed information on Crime Stoppers to all registered taxpayers, and he wants to see a Pleasantville resident volunteer. Interested parties should contact Councilman Stanley Swan Jr., chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
The Pleasantville Community Neighborhood Watch will meet Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Skyline Condominiums. To report nonemergency suspicious activity, call 609-641-6100 or alert Crime Stoppers anonymously at 609-909-7975.
Contact Felicia Compian: