NEW ALBANY — A group of New Albany residents are forming partnerships to help make their neighborhoods safer.
More than 20 people gathered Thursday at a meeting at the New Albany Floyd County Public Library, to discuss concerns and share ideas about policing their corners of the city for criminal or suspicious behavior.
Many of those in attendance had met through the Next Door app, a national social media platform that allows residents in a particular area to share information on crime and other general topics. Several of those in attendance also said they've had things happen that have made them feel unsafe.
New Albany resident Diane Williamson said she's already seen what the network can do, after an incident that happened at her house about a month ago.
"In the middle of the night somebody yanked open our storm door and began to try to kick in our front door," she said. Her boyfriend, who also lives there, put his weight against the door to hold it closed.
"In the moment when you're faced with that situation, you just react," Williamson said. "You think 'let's keep whoever out.'"
The suspect eventually left, walking away, but the incident was caught on the couple's security camera. Williamson shared the video the following day on the Next Door app, and a neighbor later found out a nearby restaurant had also been damaged, a brick thrown through the window around the same time.
"That's how we put it together because of a neighbor paying attention, being snoopy, which is good, and sharing that information with me," she said.
The suspect was arrested and is facing misdemeanor charges at this time.
Williamson said what she hoped would come from this first meeting was more of the same — "More connection, more interaction among neighbors, more people signing up for Next Door," she said. "More people realizing that we are not powerless..."
Other residents shared during the meeting things they've seen; those who already are part of neighborhood watch groups talked about how they operate.
Vicky Nugent, who's lived in the Ekin Avenue area for 20 years, said she's been vigilant about protecting her part of the neighborhood for years. If people are arguing in the street, not taking care of their property or doing something she feels is suspicious, she doesn't hesitate to report it to the police.
"I don't put up with anything in the neighborhood," she said. "I don't want someone moving into my neighborhood that's going to bring my property value down and I will fight for it."
Though she's been doing this for years largely on her own, Nugent said she was glad to meet others at the gathering who live nearby, to find out what they knew and share what she knows. She hopes they can work together to watch their immediate area.
"When you're sitting there and you're fighting to save your little section of neighborhood, you think 'I'm alone,'" she said."And I found out that we're not alone."
Charles Nance, safety supervisor at the library and retired Jefferson County Sheriff's deputy, attended the meeting and offered advice to the residents to empower themselves.
"If you see something, say something," he said. "Get to know your neighbors — they can be the best watch dogs that you ever had."
He said if someone sees something suspicious, to try to get as many details as possible for police.
"Try to get a license plate," he said. "If you need to, get a picture of something. Write things down — color of car, anything that's out of place, make sure you jot it down. Call the police every chance you get.
New Albany Police Chief Todd Bailey said the department appreciates the community involvement by residents.
“I believe a strong partnership between citizens and law enforcement is essential to promote a safe community," he said in an email. "It is because of the relationship the New Albany Police Department has with citizens, coupled with hard-working, professional police officers, that we enjoy a safe community.
"Neighborhood Watch groups are most effective when neighbors communicate with each other and pass necessary information to law enforcement."
Anyone wishing to know more from police about getting involved or starting their own neighborhood watch groups can call the New Albany Police Department at 812-958-5300.