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January 26, 2014

Monday Q&A: Turlock community service officer helps public keep crime at bay

Michelle Backeroff works as a community service officer with the Turlock Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit, running the Neighborhood Watch programs and serving as a liaison between the department and the public. She recently responded to questions on public safety.

Michelle Backeroff has been working as a community service officer for the Turlock Police Department for 6½ years, the past two in the Crime Prevention Unit. Backeroff runs the Neighborhood Watch programs and serves as a liaison between the department and the public.

Backeroff, 28, recently responded to some questions regarding Neighborhood Watch, public safety and the surprises of crime prevention work.

First, tell us a little about yourself, your background and how long you have been working in the Crime Prevention Unit.

I hold two associate degrees from Modesto Junior College (behavioral and social sciences, and child development). I also have a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Chapman University

What is the value of a Neighborhood Watch program?

Neighborhood Watch is a program designed for citizens to develop organization within neighborhoods to increase crime prevention awareness and reduce crime in and around the neighborhood. Although Turlock police patrol officers provide patrols in neighborhoods throughout Turlock, it is impossible for them to be everywhere and to witness every crime.

Neighborhood Watch creates an organized partnership with the citizens of Turlock and the Police Department. It focuses on observation, awareness and communication (reporting crime and suspicious activity). Through the community/police partnership, the community is given the necessary resources to reduce crime. This partnership often results in a safer, cleaner and more comfortable living environment.

How would someone interested in starting a program go about doing so?

The key to starting a Neighborhood Watch is to ensure the entire neighborhood (or majority of it) is on board. Once the neighborhood is ready to begin, it must decide who will serve as the Neighborhood Watch captain. The captains serve as a liaison between the neighborhood and the Police Department. Their job is also to maintain communication with the neighbors and to schedule regular Neighborhood Watch meetings. After the Neighborhood Watch captain is chosen, that person can contact me to organize the first Neighborhood Watch meeting.

During the first meeting, discussions are held on the organization of Neighborhood Watch, crime trends in the area, personal safety, burglary prevention, vehicle safety, etc. We also discuss maintenance of the program and ways to keep the program active. The Police Department will provide Neighborhood Watch signs, free of charge, for those active Neighborhood Watch groups.

How many active Neighborhood Watch programs are in Turlock?

There are approximately 70 active Neighborhood Watch groups in Turlock.

What are some simple things people can do to make their homes and neighborhoods safer?

The most important thing people can do is to be aware of crime in their area, observe what is going on around them, and report any crime or suspicious activity to the police. Many times, people are hesitant to call because they “do not want to bother” the police. However, our job is to ensure the safety of the Turlock community members. If something does not seem right, chances are it is not. It is our job to make that determination, so do not hesitate to call. If you have an emergency, call 911. If it is a nonemergency, you can call the nonemergency dispatch line: (209) 668-1200. Other tips:

• Lock your doors and windows. Utilize alarm systems, cameras, etc.
• With the colder weather, people tend to leave vehicles running in the morning to warm up. Do not leave your vehicle running and unattended.
• Do not leave items in plain view in your vehicle.
• Lighting is a great crime-prevention tool. Make sure your home is well lit (especially near doors and windows) and park vehicles in well-lit areas.
• Keep your neighborhood clean and clear of graffiti, garbage, weeds, etc. These things can bring down the value of the homes and attract crime.

What is Business Watch?

Similar to Neighborhood Watch, Business Watch groups are designed for similar businesses, or businesses in close proximity, wanting to reduce crime and potential liability/profit loss. Business owners/managers communicate with each other on suspicious activity or crime trends. The Police Department will provide training and presentations for these groups to help them reduce crime within and around the businesses.

What would surprise people about crime prevention work?

There are a lot of programs offered to the citizens of Turlock through the Crime Prevention office. All programs are free of cost. Following is a list of some of the programs offered:

• Neighborhood Watch
• Business Watch
• School Watch
• National Night Out
• Crime Stoppers and Students Speaking Out (anonymous tips line)
•  Rape Aggression Defense (self-defense class)
• Citizens Academy
•  Volunteers In Police Services
•  Miscellaneous presentations and training on multiple topics (gangs, drugs, identity theft, vehicle safety, personal safety, etc.)
• Operation Blue Santa

Tell us a little bit about the Turlock police volunteers program, and how people can get involved in it.

The Turlock Police Department has 21 volunteers. Turlock police volunteers are the heart of crime prevention. Volunteers provide “extra eyes and ears” on patrol and helping hands at the police station. Some of their duties include disabled parking violation enforcement, garage sale permit compliance, traffic control, data entry, vacation house checks, assist in searching for missing persons and multiple other tasks inside and outside the department.

The volunteer program is designed for citizens interested in giving back to the community, and is not designed as a training program into a paid law enforcement position. Applicants must be at least 21 years of age with good moral character. We are always hiring for volunteers, and encourage anyone who is interested to pick up an application at the Police Department.

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