ELSIE Brown lay dead in her Bentleigh home for nearly two years before police found her remains. This harrowing story pulled on the heartstrings of the nation and is the reason why tireless volunteers make phone calls to make sure isolated people are ok.
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Armed with telephones and computers, members of Neighbourhood Watch sub group Ballarat and District Community Support Register are a far cry from the stereotype of people peering over fences and handing out newsletters.
They provide an essential service and collect key data that police members can use if the vulnerable person signed to the register has any problems – resulting in a quicker and potentially life-saving response.
Leading Senior Constable Janine Walker leads the Neighbourhood Watch group and register. She spends time talking with the volunteers, spreading community messages and working proactively with the community to make Ballarat a safer place.
“The programme is aimed at giving people who live alone or are isolated in the community a sense of feeling safe, by having a call once a week or fortnight checking on their welfare,” Leading Senior Constable Walker said.
Volunteers work most mornings. People voluntarily sign up for the service and volunteers collect information.
“Police can access that information – is the key with neighbour? Who is their next of kin? So we don’t have break doors or smash glass if we have to do welfare checks,” Leading Senior Constable Walker said.
Registered members are given an ID card.
“If they are in a shop and disoriented – they can look at the ID card and call someone.”
Bill Reynolds co-ordinates Neighbourhood Watch and the register. He joined the organisation decades ago, when there were separate neighbourhood branches. The register has been under the Neighbourhood Watch umbrella for four years. Some participants opt to have weekly, fortnightly or monthly phone calls.
“Some people you call up do a quick check, other people tell you their life story,” Mr Reynolds said.
“For some people, us and a carer might be the only contact they get all week.”
When Neighbourhood Watch stopped delivering its monthly newsletters with crime updates and pleas for witnesses many in the community thought the organisation had simply dried up.
The advent of Facebook and social media means the way police communicate with the community has changed. The launch of the Ballarat Eyewatch Page has largely replaced the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter – because calls for witnesses require that immediacy that social media, rather than a newsletter, provides.
“(I think) we are now more efficient,” Mr Reynolds said.
“We are an education program to provide people with access to information. On our website we provide links to crime data.
“We still have the same message to get across – that is that people need to take responsibility for their own safety.”
Beryl Hodges has been a member of Neighbourhood Watch for more than 20 years.
“I lived in Sebastopol and we had no Neighbourhood Watch in our area. Someone went around with a petition to start a Neighbourhood Watch,” Ms Hodges said.
“We thought it would be a great way to look out for one another and report crime.
“It has changed a lot particularly in the last five years.”
Crime in Ballarat has spiked recently with data showing a steep increase in the number of theft offences, theft from motor vehicle offences and arson.
Statistics released in March showed youth crime in Ballarat was at its highest rate in at least five years, with the number of alleged incidents involving young males increasing by 159 since 2014.
Males aged 15-17 years were involved in 60 per cent of all alleged youth offences from October 2014 to September 2015.
Data released last month also showed a 128 per cent increase in the number of arson offences over a 12-month period.
“Our volunteer base are available to assist Victoria Police to facilitate the education of the wider community about crime prevention strategies and target hardening,” Leading Senior Constable Walker said.
“Our volunteers now say they have never felt more valuable at any stage in their involvement in Neighbourhood Watch.”
Some key education programs include operation safe plate during which volunteers fit number plates with safety-screws that prevent stolen number plate thefts.
Given the surging number of stolen number plates and motor vehicles that are then in turn used to commit other crimes, the operation is increasingly important.
Neighbourhood Watch is recruiting for the volunteer base and seeking individuals in the community that have various different skill sets to assist with crime prevention programs.
They are looking for volunteers for the Community Support Register that have basic computer skills and a good telephone manner. The Community Support Register operates Monday to Friday from 9.30am till 12.30pm and our office space is a comfortable central location in Ballarat.
Enquiries regarding volunteering for the Ballarat & District Community Support Register or the Neighbourhood Watch Program Ballarat should be director to Leading Senior Constable Walker on 0429 004 073.
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