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Partying against crime

Spyglass Hill residents form a neighborhood watch group to keep an eye out for wrongdoers in their area.

August 07, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck
  • Laurie Horn, left, talks with Lt. Jay Short, with the Newport Beach Police Department, during a Spyglass Hill community picnic on Tuesday, August 6. The picnic is sponsored by the Spyglass Hill Neighborhood Watch committee.
Laurie Horn, left, talks with Lt. Jay Short, with the Newport… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

In Newport Beach's Spyglass Hill neighborhood, they're using block parties to combat burglaries.

Since February, when residents formed a neighborhood watch, people have been keeping a closer eye on suspicious solicitors or taking it upon themselves to hide old newspapers stacking up in driveways.

But building a feeling of community is a key component of this plan to prevent crime, said Therese Loutherback, the neighborhood watch's coordinator.

"It's doing really exceptionally well now," she said of the effort, "but we still have to get people to meet each other because that's the only way they're going to watch each others' houses when they're on vacation, pick up newspapers, watch out for suspicious people and cars. They have to care, and that's why we're doing this."

The watch's 25 block commanders are in the process of planning and throwing 25 block parties, hoping to spark some familiarity with neighbors and motivate more watchful eyes.

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But Tuesday, the entire neighborhood came together when more than 100 people gathered for its first community picnic, Loutherback said.

The event took place while police departments across the nation held meet-and-greets with residents for as part of National Night Out, an annual event to strengthen relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

At the Bonita Canyon Sports Park, Newport Beach police threw a barbecue and safety fair while Costa Mesa police hosted their own event in the Target parking lot on Harbor Boulevard.

At Spyglass Hill Park, Crime Prevention Specialist Erica Sperling said the neighborhood is a model for a community trying to support police.

"And that's why there's such a good turnout here tonight," she said, pointing to the neighbors milling about, eating cupcakes or competing in sack races.

Many of them wore name tags identifying themselves and their streets.

"Ideally, if we could have a neighborhood watch in every neighborhood, it would just make a huge difference," Sperling said. "Then we have all these eyes and ears in the community looking out for each other and calling in things to us so we can check them out."

Spyglass Hill's watch sprung up after a burglary in September on Loutherback's street.

She decided it was time to get organized after remembering how she felt seven years ago when thousands of dollars of jewelry were stolen from her home.

"I felt very violated," she said.

Since founding the watch, four block commanders have thrown parties to galvanize their neighbors, and residents already have sharper ears and eyes, she said.

Some residents are meeting neighbors they've never talked to in 30 years of living in their homes, Loutherback said, and that makes for a community where people watch each others' backs.

"I feel a lot safer," she said.

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