By Gerhard Schneibel

When Terry Sult started as Sandy Springs’ police chief in October, he spoke about reaching out to the community and making sure the goals of the police are “aligned with the neighborhoods.”

An integral part of that effort is the neighborhood watch program, led by Senior Officer Larry Jacobs. There are 62 active neighborhood watches in the city, up from 58 at the end of 2008. Thirteen more are being formed.

To set up a watch, neighborhoods should try to get at least 40 percent of the homes involved, but those with as few as seven houses can qualify. Neighborhoods pay nominal fees to cover the costs of installing neighborhood watch signs.

Once a neighborhood signs up, Jacobs visits to talk to the residents about what to be wary of and how they can protect themselves from crime. The program includes an optional walk-through of each house, during which Jacobs gives tips on how to improve safety.

“It gives them a more secure feeling because they know what to look for, and they remember to do certain things, like taking items out of their vehicles, remembering to lock their doors, trimming their bushes below the window line and turning on the outdoor lighting,” Jacobs said.

As part of the program, neighbors compile a list of e-mail addresses and phone numbers to contact one another when necessary. Block captains are selected to respond to concerns by contacting the Police Department. If neighbors see suspicious cars or people, they are encouraged to call their block captains.

Mike McDonald is block captain of a neighborhood of 20 homes on West Kingston Drive and West Kingston Court off Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, where he has lived for about a year. His neighborhood doesn’t have an official name or homeowners association, but it still qualified for the program.

“Part of the problem we saw when we moved in was that it was a collection of homes, but it wasn’t really a neighborhood in our estimation,” he said. “We wanted to bring some more unity to the neighborhood and be more than just two streets.”

When two cars were stolen from homes in late November and early December, McDonald decided it was time to contact Jacobs about setting up a neighborhood watch.

“I think just having a police officer in uniform come to our neighborhood and just talk to us made us feel very comfortable that the Sandy Springs Police Department does know about this problem, that they are concerned about it and that they do have a program to put in place,” he said. “Our experience has been a phenomenal one. ‘Get involved’ is probably my biggest piece of advice. Don’t just sit back and wait for others to do it.”

McDonald and his neighbors use their contact list to spread the word when they plan to have workers at their houses, when they are having furniture delivered, etc. That information helps everyone be aware of who is in the neighborhood at any time, he said.

Jacobs said people shouldn’t be shy about calling 911 if they see something suspicious.

“Sometimes they don’t think it’s important enough, or they think we’re too busy for them and that it’s not a big deal,” he said. “But we could have caught somebody doing something illegal. We could have either prevented a crime or caught somebody that was in the process of doing something illegal or even scoping an area to see who is home and who isn’t.”

Established watches help the police do their job more effectively, he said. “They’re an extra set of eyes and ears, and our overall goal is to reduce crime and increase awareness.”