Fort Mill Times

Crimes have Whiteville Park on lookout

FORT MILL -- Overall crime in Fort Mill is trending down, but some recent, high-profile criminal activity in Whiteville Park has neighbors on edge.

Most recently, a home on Nims Street was burglarized on Sunday Sept. 28, and a 20-year-old resident of Unity Street was shot and robbed earlier that month. Also in September, two cars were broken into and two thefts were reported, one on East Hill Street, and one in Unity Cemetery, according to police reports.

Since the shooting, several neighbors have contacted Fort Mill Police Lt. Ray Dixon about creating a neighborhood watch for Whiteville Park. Jeff Begnochea is leading the effort.

"After the recent string of events, especially the shooting, I felt like I had to do something," Begnochea said. "I have a 6-and-a-half-year-old son and it's just way too close to home."

According to Dixon, "After the shooting and the burglary, that's when people decided it's time to act."

Begnochea was the first in the latest wave of Whiteville Park residents to approach Dixon about setting up a watch program. Dixon directed him to the National Neighborhood Watch Institute's Web site (www.nnwi.org) for more information and supplies to create a watch program. Once the neighbors lay the foundation for the group, Dixon will address the residents and discuss how they can work with the police department to reduce crime in the neighborhood.

"We go over the recent crime trends in the area, setting up phone trees, the basics of neighborhood watch," Dixon said. "It's a common misconception, but the police department doesn't establish the programs, we just help maintain them."

Organizing the watch program will be a first for Begnochea, who has lived in the neighborhood for the last five years. He's spoken with a few other neighbors interested in the program and plans to schedule a meeting in the coming weeks.

It is more than one person can handle alone, he said. In addition to setting up phone trees and patrols, there are handbooks and signs to buy, but Begnochea said he believes the expenses will be worth an increased sense of security.

"We've seen a change in the neighborhood. As the older people die off, new people move in," he said. "There's a different group of people walking the streets at night." Combating crime in the area will revolve around a lot of "common sense" solutions, Dixon said. Many of them will require residents shake off complacency and change some of their habits.

"If it's valuable to you, it's valuable to someone else," he said. "Don't leave it in your car overnight, don't leave your garage doors open at night."

"I'm a huge advocate of home alarm systems," he added.

Over the last few years the crime rates in Fort Mill have been declining, even as the town continues to grow.

Dixon sees two factors driving the trend. One is a police force that concentrates on community policing with officers proactively patrolling neighborhoods. The other is community involvement.

"A real advantage is when we have a community that trusts us the way they do, and calls us when something is going on," he said.

Efforts like the neighborhood watch program in Whiteville Park should lead to further declines in crime rates in town, he said.

Anyone interested in joining the group should call Begnochea at (803) 675-7095.

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