TURLOCK -- Last year, a check forger hit downtown. Before he disappeared, a dozen businesses were fleeced out of merchandise and cash. Had a system been in place to notify other businesses of the bad checks, retailers would have been able to screen customers paying by check; police could have had an early jump on a new trend.
That's the idea behind Business Watch, a partnership between downtown and the Turlock Police Department, based on the Neighborhood Watch philosophy.
Trina Walley, executive director of the Downtown Property Owners Association, will act as a communication link among 60 businesses and the police. Suspicious activity not requiring immediate or emergency police intervention will be communicated to Walley, then sent to all participants though phone, e-mail and fax. The full notification process takes less than 15 minutes, she said.
"This allows us to keep records of real reports, but also suspicious activity," Walley said. "Someone looks like they're casing an area, a business can call in the description and see if neighbors get that same vibe. It opens a line of communication, and if they see a pattern, we report it to the police."
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Observation and communication are the main tenets of Neighborhood Watch, said Thea Harris, police volunteer coordinator. The Turlock Police Volunteer program aims to instill that, and a sense of community, in downtown, she said.
"They have had issues downtown with transients, so some of this is the businesses saying, 'We'll step up and do our part and stop just squawking,' " she said.
Volunteers and neighbors also could respond to alarm calls, Harris said, and report to the police if they see broken glass or other signs of tampering. Police have stopped responding to burglar alarms without verification of tampering because more often than not it's a false alarm.
The Business Watch network could expand to the rest of the city, said Sgt. Steve Williams.
"If detectives are working a case in the Monte Vista area of check frauds, for example, we can use this channel to send out information on the suspect or the type of checks or other information to downtown business," he said.
If successful, Monte Vista Crossings and Geer Road could get their own group.
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2391.
Modesto doesn't have a Business Watch program, but police are eager to start one if there's enough community interest, said Sgt. Craig Gundlach.
Modesto police run a business academy twice a year where identity theft, forgery, graffiti, panhandling and robbery prevention strategies are discussed.
Business Watch could buttress that program, adding a Neighborhood Watch-style monitor of business, by business, with an appointed go-between to police, Gundlach said.
Modesto police have pitched the plan before, but there wasn't much of a reception, he said. "We still have the ability and the resources and the desire," he said.
Modesto area businesses interested in starting their own Business Watch can contact the police crime prevention unit at 572-9500.