Neighborhood Watch event in Westminster brings community, law enforcement together

By Jessica Peralta

Anita and Steve Thomas have lived in the Westmont area of Westminster going on 50 years now.

“Umpteen years ago, we couldn’t have asked to have moved into a better neighborhood,” said Anita, who was with her husband mingling with other neighbors at the Neighborhood Watch Community Event at Bolsa Chica Park on April 29.

The event – the first of its kind for the Sol Vista-area Neighborhood Watch – was complete with burgers and hotdogs (grilled up by Westminster Police Commander Cameron Knauerhaze), visits from local Orange County Fire Authority firefighters and WPD Animal Control, WPD Bike Patrol safety presentations for kids, and an assortment of vendor tents, ranging from Damsel In Defense pepper spray and stun gun company geared toward women to Ring, a motion-activated camera and two-way audio home security system.

Westminster PD Sgt. Bill Drinnin talks to a group of young bicycle riders during a Westminster PD/Neighborhood Watch gathering at Bolsa Chica Park on April 29.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The goal of the Neighborhood Watch and events like these is to open communication among neighbors to promote security in the area. And WPD has played a large role in that.

“We need to embrace every opportunity available in the private and public sector to help fight crime,” said Knauerhaze. “Community partnerships are the bread and butter of our success. We owe our neighborhoods our 100-percent commitment to strengthening their Neighborhood Watch effort.”

Neighborhood Watch organizer Missi Hernandez said she got the program going about three years ago, and since then, the group has put together a Christmas on Cornell event, with a great turnout, and now meets four times a year. She anticipated about 200 neighbors at this event.

Cheryl Acoutin, coordinator of the Neighborhood Watch community event at Bolsa Chica Park, center, kneels next to her 2-year-old grandson, Nolan, as Westminster PD Officer Stewart de Jong gives him a police sticker.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“We’ve had 60 to 100 people at every meeting for the last three years,” she said. “We’re just out to protect each other and bring community back.”

Part of that has involved cultivating a genuine partnership with WPD, and vice versa.

“They get to know us,” she said.

The result? A notable drop in criminal activity – including a string of car burglaries that had been taking place in Sol Vista.

Andrew Pohlen, neighborhood manager for Ring security systems, talks to local residents about their doorbell/camera system during a Westminster PD/Neighborhood Watch gathering at Bolsa Chica Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“If you see anything out of the ordinary, you usually will report it,” said Anita. “It’s neighbors looking out for one another, all working together as one big team.”

The security-minded vendors at the event is another way the Neighborhood Watch and agency are trying to help reduce crime.

Representatives from Ring were onsite offering discounts to residents who purchased their motion-activated camera and audio system that day. The system allows residents to see visitors (or intruders), with the added function of being able to actually speak to the person on the other side of the door – whether the resident is home or not. The company is teaming up with Neighborhood Watch and the WPD to get more of these systems in residents’ homes.

Another aspect of safety covered at the event was through WPD’s Bike Patrol safety demos – and by giving away some free bicycle helmets. The officers set up patterns with cones that they could ride through with the children while teaching them about safety.

Neighborhood kids, including 10-year-old Lonnie Henning, right, run through a bicycle obstacle course set up by the Westminster PD.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Gang Det. Jerad Kent, who is on Bike Patrol and also used to live in the neighborhood, said the kids are “eager to learn and eager to have fun.”

He said events like these can help reduce crime by bringing residents together and teaching them to watch out for each other.

“It brings neighbors together, opens communication between them,” he said. “When you have events like these … you meet neighbors down the street.”

Yuliya Shulunova paints a dolphin on 6-year-old Naya’s face during a Westminster PD/Neighborhood Watch gathering at Bolsa Chica Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Neighborhood kids run through a bicycle obstacle course set up by the Westminster PD at Bolsa Chica Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Westminster PD Officer Stewart de Jong looks over 2-year-old Nolan as he rides through a bicycle course.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Andrew Pohlen, neighborhood manager for Ring security systems, talks to local residents about their doorbell/camera system during a Westminster PD/Neighborhood Watch gathering at Bolsa Chica Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Westminster PD CSO Cyn’d Moranville grills hot dogs and hamburgers for people attending a Westminster PD/Neighborhood Watch gathering at Bolsa Chica Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Lonnie Henning, 10, runs through a bicycle obstacle course.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Westminster PD Volunteer Heir Nguyen takes questions during a Westminster PD/Neighborhood Watch gathering at Bolsa Chica Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Westminster Councilman Sergio Contreras, left, and Westminster PD Commander Cameron Knauerhaze take their turn grilling hot dogs and hamburgers at a Westminster PD/Neighborhood Watch gathering at Bolsa Chica Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Three-year-old Kensington Davis of Westminster gets a unicorn painted on her face.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Neighborhood bicycle riders gather with Westminster PD officers (from left) Sgt. Bill Drinnin, Det. Ryan Bedard, Officer Jerad Kent, Officer Stewart de Jong and Officer Paul Walker.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Neighborhood kids, including Ryder McDaniel, 9, bottom right, runs through a bicycle obstacle course.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC