Neighborhood Watch program flourishes under Orange Police direction

By Elysse James

It’s 90 degrees out, and a man is sitting in a parked car wearing a coat, gloves, and a hat on a quiet street peppered with neighborhood watch signs.

Members of Orange’s abundant neighborhood watch groups know to report this type of suspicious activity to police immediately, complete with descriptive details and license plate numbers, potentially stopping crime before it occurs.

Crime Prevention Specialists Michelle Micallef, Bradley Beyer, and Dyanna Sapp of the Orange Police Department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In Orange, this type of proactive behavior is common. The Orange Police Department’s neighborhood watch program is one of the most active in the county, with more than 290 groups and up to six meetings per month.

“We’re truly the powerhouse of neighborhood watch,” said Michelle Micallef, an Orange Police Department crime prevention specialist. Micallef and her colleagues Brad Beyer and Dyanna Sapp run the program. “It’s wonderful.”

Residents who attend the neighborhood watch meetings gain insight into annual crime data for their neighborhood, and then they learn how to help police by reporting suspicious activity, making observations that can identify suspects, and signing up for services such as business watch and vacation checks.

Orange Police Crime Prevention Specialist Michelle Micallef holds a Neighborhood Watch meeting at Chapman Hills Elementary in Orange.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange has been running neighborhood watch groups since the 1980s. The program has expanded substantially in the past 10 years, and the Orange PD expects to hold more than 72 neighborhood watch meetings this year. In addition to providing education, the meetings encourage residents to change their behavior in a way that discourages crime and promotes community.

“That’s what neighborhood watch is all about — just being watchful in the neighborhood and knowing to call and report suspicious activity immediately,” said Micallef, who’s been with Orange PD for 13 years.

Residents attend a Neighborhood Watch meeting hosted by the Orange Police Department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange resident Katherine Marquez started her community’s neighborhood watch in her home, but the group quickly outgrew that space.

“It was so big people were sitting on the stairs in my house,” Marquez said. “Our police department is really good. They do a fabulous job.”

The neighborhood watch helped residents get to know one another better and has resulted in an increased feeling of safety in the community.

Orange Police Lt. Fred Lopez talks about neighborhood safety during a Neighborhood Watch meeting at Chapman Hills Elementary.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“We know more, we have more familiarity with each other, not just those on our block,” she said. “We have the sense that we’re watching out for each other.”

That is the goal of the National Neighborhood Watch Program, which was established in 1972 and was revitalized in 2002 to help reduce crime by creating a partnership between citizens and law enforcement.

Lt. Kevin Frager, left, and Sgt. Kyle Werner of Orange County Animal Control talk during a Neighborhood Watch meeting about how to protect pets and family from coyotes by taking steps to reduce rodent activity, which takes away a food source that attracts the coyotes.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Orange residents Linda Saperstein and Char Davis attended a recent neighborhood watch meeting because they were concerned about a perceived increase in crime.

“Finding out there are few crimes puts my mind at ease,” Saperstein said.

Davis said she felt the meeting was excellent.

“I’m surprised that in the eyes of the police we are a safe area, but a lot of (crime) isn’t being reported,” Davis said. “People complain on Next Door but don’t call it in.”

The biggest crime in Orange, Micallef said, is auto burglary, which is preventable through habits such as not leaving valuable items visible in cars and locking car doors and windows.

“People have a tendency to get a false sense of security, especially when they live in a gated community,” Micallef said. “You just need to be watchful.”

“That’s kind of what crime prevention is. It’s the common-sense things that we just forget to do,” said Sapp, a former Orange PD Explorer. “We can make a difference… We’re informing people of different ways to prevent crime from happening.”

Sign up for Orange Police Department’s iWatch alerts here: http://ca-orange.civicplus.com/1442/Orange-i-Watch