FOREST — Forest residents Amanda Noascono and Raegan Hastings noticed suspicious activity and vandalism at the village’s Gormley Park and decided they wanted to make a difference.
After meeting with Mayor Tom Seam, the two women, who both live on Zimmerman Street, decided taking action was the best option.
Now co-captains of the formerly defunct Forest Block Watch, Noascono and Hastings held the first meeting in years at Forest-Jackson Public Library on Thursday night, when almost 50 Forest area residents came out to make a difference in their community.
Residents could sign up to be captains of their neighborhoods, attend quarterly meetings or simply receive email updates from the group.
Noascono told the group that whatever level of commitment they could give would be appreciated.
According to a brochure from the meeting, the Forest Block Watch aims to enhance crime prevention throughout the village and surrounding areas by using community participation.
Noascono told attendees of the meeting that the first step in crime prevention is to report suspicious activity, as soon as it occurs, to the Forest Police Department or county sheriff’s office of the resident.
“You are the eyes and ears that are out there on the street,” she said. “We don’t need vigilantes. … With fights, I’m not the one to break them up, but I will call the police and report it.”
FPD can be reached at 419-273-2552.
The Forest Block Watch committee will meet quarterly, said Noascono, who has lived in the village since October 2011 and works in Findlay. Her co-captain is a homemaker and has lived in the village her entire life.
Noascono said village residents can sign up to receive emailed information from email@example.com. The email address has been set up to help coordinate communication and spread the word when particular neighborhoods or areas experience criminal activity.
Forest Police Chief Shawn Taylor spoke about the recent increased police presence in the village park. He said the park board approved the FPD for a two-week trial period to see if criminal activity would decline or even halt.
“We have not had an incident since then,” Taylor said. “… The police department is not 24/7. We do have a gap in coverage. … We have a young and learning (police) force.”
When there are gaps in coverage, he said, local sheriff’s offices cover the village.
When calling an incident into the police station, Taylor said residents should be aware that a recording first will be heard. To speak to a dispatcher, the caller needs to hit “0,” he added.
“We may or may not have an officer on duty,” he said.
As always, Taylor added, if an emergency situation is at hand, residents should call 9-1-1. The police department also has a cell phone for the officer on duty. That number is 419-767-0029.
“We all know how cell (phone) reception is here (in Forest),” Taylor said. “… Sometimes it goes straight to voicemail.”
He said if the complainant does not hear back from an officer soon after the call is placed, he or she should call the police department’s landline because the officer may not have received the call.
“This is Anytown, U.S.A., right now,” Taylor said. “Just this month — we still have a week to go — we’ve had three thefts, four burglaries and a breaking and entering. A lot of these are drug driven because when you have things like that … they have an addiction and they want someone else’s stuff to get more money for that drug.
“If you have prescriptions, lock them up,” he added.
A burglary occurs when a person trespasses onto an otherwise occupied structure to commit a crime when someone is home or presumed to be home, Taylor said.
“This is the world we live in,” Taylor said.
He also advised residents to keep all outbuildings locked.
“If it isn’t tied down, it might not be there tomorrow,” he said.
All solicitors are required to check in at the city building with proper identification, Taylor said.
He introduced some of the police staff, including Lt. Brandon Flick, patrolmen Sutton Flick, Andrew Stapley and Jesse Evilsizer and auxiliary officer Matthew Shark.
Hardin County Sheriff Keith Everhart also was in attendance to answer questions.
One resident questioned if a gun can be used legally when someone is breaking into a home, asking who would be in more trouble.
Everhart said with Ohio’s Castle Doctrine, residents do not need permits to keep a gun in their homes for protection.
The law, also known as Senate Bill 184, was signed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in June 2008. It went into effect Sept. 9 of that year.
“Prior to the doctrine, if you shot someone (breaking into your home), you would probably be charged,” he said. He said the homeowner used to have to prove in court that he or she was in fear for their life.
However, the law stipulates that “a person is presumed to have acted in self defense or defense of another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if the person against whom the defensive force is used is in the process of unlawfully and without privilege to do so entering, or has unlawfully and without privilege to do so entered, the residence or vehicle occupied by the person using the defensive force.”
Currently, the Castle Doctrine does not apply to unattached buildings on the property. However, Everhart said there currently is a bill pending in the state legislature to cover all property.
“The fact is, I don’t want to shoot anybody,” Everhart said. “I’ve got a 15-year-old son who’s not supposed to sneak out. … The last thing I want to do is start shooting down a hallway. You want to make sure you know what you’re shooting at.”
Everhart commended Taylor for turning the FPD around in his almost three years on the job.
“They had decades of stuff they had to work through,” Everhart said.
Everhart told the group there would be a gathering of community block watch committees at Boy Scout Lake and Park in Kenton from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 11. It is an opportunity for block watch committee members to meet one another and share contact information, as Everhart said what happens in one community affects all surrounding communities, as well.
The event will include activities for children, a K-9 demonstration and a SWAT team demonstration, he added. Everhart said he also will bring out his “big boy toys.”
Another resident asked whether stun guns or Tasers were legal to carry for protection.
“They do make a civilian model,” Taylor said. “It’s not considered a deadly weapon.”
Noascono thanked attendees for making the first meeting of the committee a success.
“I didn’t think there was a lot of crime (in the village),” she said. “You don’t hear about it, but it might be a street over or a block down.”
She told residents that they always should look out for neighbors.
“The commitment level is minimum,” Noascono said. “… Raegan and I can’t … be the town crier running down middle of the street yelling, ‘Hear ye! Hear ye! We have a (crime).’”
Noascono said although the block watch committee has been in place for two or three years, the former coordinator, Forest-Jackson Public Library Director Karen Moore, had a lot on her plate with other programs in the village. That’s when she and Hastings decided to head up the committee.
Everhart told the pair of coordinators that, as with any civic group, the key is to keep people interested. Noascono said she plans to have a program at each meeting, such as self-defense classes or a demonstration with the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit.
“We have a beautiful park here,” she said. “I believe having community pride deters (criminals). I believe that if you take pride in your community, they will change.”
Block watch group hears safety tips
Some tips shared at the kick-off of the Forest Block Watch committee included:
— Watch out for neighbors and their property;
— Notify police of any suspicious activity or crime in progress;
— If a victim of a crime, make a report;
— Notify block watch captains of any and all suspicious activity;
— Distribute block watch information; and
— Attend regular meetings.
Block watch members should look for several things, including:
— Someone shouting for help;
— Sounds of breaking glass;
— Unusual noises;
— Beam from flashlight in a neighbor’s home;
— Someone looking into parked vehicles;
— People loitering around the neighborhood;
— A stranger in the back yard;
— Property being carried out of houses where no one is home;
— A forced open window or door;
— An unknown or strange vehicle parked at a neighbor’s house;
— Slow moving vehicles cruising the block;
— Someone being forced into a vehicle;
— A stranger sitting in a car or stopping to talk to a child; and
— Abandoned vehicles.
All information was taken from a brochure distributed at the kick-off meeting of Forest Block Watch on Thursday evening.
By ALISSA PAOLELLA