ALPENA - Nine volunteers received training Thursday night about the Alpena Police Department's updated neighborhood watch program.
Now in its sixth year, the community program improves communication and crime reporting in the city's neighborhoods, especially where there are abandoned homes, trash issues or drug trafficking.
"The program gives police officers year-round support, especially when budgets are being cut," said Officer Bill Gohl, who is liaison for the program.
His hour-long presentation at the Public Safety Building was attended by Mayor Matt Waligora, interim City Manager Greg Sundin, interim Police Chief Joel Jett and Councilman Sam Eiler.
Gohl said he would work with five block captains, one from each sector, and help them recruit neighbors to look out for crimes.
If there is a rash of car break-ins, neighbors can warn each other about the situation, he said. They can even communicate in the event of a flu outbreak, or simply plan events such as picnics to draw people together.
Additional training in the form of power point presentations is available to increase awareness among volunteers about issues such as suspected child abuse, he said.
He warned the program doesn't give volunteers police power. Instead, their job is about communication.
"One of the best things you can do is develop a relationship of trust with your neighbors," he said. "My goal ultimately is to make you a great witness and a great volunteer."
He encouraged the audience to recruit younger people 18 and 19 years old to participate. But being a witness can be a challenge, because criminal activities often last only seconds, he said. He told the volunteers they need to be calm and remember as much information as they can, starting with basic facts and expanding into more details.
Gohl said he also plans to submit grants for $500 so he can provide the sectors with Neighborhood Watch door decals and signs.
Audience members received a packet of information, including signup sheets and a map of snowmobile routes through the city, because traffic will increase. He also distributed a handout on basic city laws.
Then he quizzed the audience if Alpena has leash laws. No. Dogs must be on a leash in the city's parks, but otherwise need only be under control by voice or other commands from the handler.
He then asked if Alpena allows residents to keep livestock in the city: Yes, he replied. But crowing roosters would be a noise violation.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693.