Technology helps Neighborhood Watch groups

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn (WVLT) - Technology is helping neighbors look out for one another, even if they don't have time for traditional neighborhood gatherings. After decades of the Neighborhood Watch program being in existence, this technology seems to be allowing the tradition to continue. It is based on the premise that active community groups can reduce crime.

Neighborhood Watch options in East Tennessee include those in the Dandridge-Morningside area of East Knoxville that still meet in person several times per year, and those like in Benington Subdivision in West Knox County that only meet online.

Both Benington Subdivision and Sherwood Forest Subdivision use private Facebook groups. Sharon Cawood is involved in the Sherwood Forest group, and said the online group is the primary way she and her neighbors stay in touch. This, in addition to traditionally picking up the phone to share information. "We have a lot of people that are out walking their dogs, and they know what cars belong in the driveways, what cars don't belong in the driveways."

Mark Griffith said his neighbors in Benington Subdivision rely heavily on technology to stay in touch. They message each other via their private community Facebook page. They also scan online resources like community crime maps for crime patterns. He said, "Neighborhood Watch is connected through the Sheriff's Department, only if we need something or want to share information do we go to the Sheriff's Department."

Griffith also relies on surveillance video to protect his home and vehicles. He first got interested in Neighborhood Watch after his surveillance camera caught two-would be thieves trying to break into his van.

The Dandridge-Morningside group says its members are using their smartphones to capture photos of suspicious activity. If they notice a car they don't recognize in the neighborhood, they make take a photo to share among neighbors or even to send to police.

Both police and neighborhood leaders stress that being active means being alert and gathering information, but not vigilantism. They remind everyone to leave law enforcement up to those with a badge.

Neighborhood Watch Coordinator John Morgan with the Knoxville Police Department said any neighborhoods wanting to organize may contact him. He can offer a guest speaker for groups. Plus, if a group meets three times, he can offer those in the city limits one of Knoxville's new Neighborhood Watch signs.