Macon neighborhoods rally against crime during National Night Out

While crime isn’t completely gone from her neighborhood, Diane Studstill said it’s tapered off in the past three years, thanks to the Neighborhood Watch group she helped organize.

“We watch out for each other,” she said.

Macon and Bibb County officials Tuesday celebrated the 29th Annual National Night Out, which honors the collaboration between law enforcement officers and the community at large to help keep the streets safe.

About 100 people showed up at a cookout on Summerhill Drive, where Studstill has lived all her life. Dozens of other National Night Out celebrations were held all across the city and the county, as well as in about 15,000 communities in all 50 states, U.S. territories and Canada.

“We’re joining with thousands of law enforcement officers and civilians across the United States,” Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena said at a rally at Macon City Hall.

Modena was one of several officials who spoke Tuesday, along with Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, Police Chief Mike Burns, Bibb County District Attorney Greg Winters, Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins and others.

The same message was repeated throughout the program: Law enforcement and residents need to stand together to battle crime.

National Night Out, sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, has three goals: to heighten awareness about crime and drug prevention; to strengthen neighborhood spirit and partnership with police; and to send a message to criminals that neighborhoods are mobilizing against crime.

The rally comes at an interesting time, with five people getting shot in Macon during the past week. Burns said the shootings underscore the need for the vigilance provided by Neighborhood Watch groups.

“It shows we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Burns said. “Getting all of the community involved really helps us. We go through these spurts and periods (of crime waves).”

Of the five shootings this week, including one homicide, four are still active investigations. Burns said his investigators have received several tips and leads from community members, leading to people of interest in the different cases.

“We’re doing our jobs investigating them,” he said.

Burns noted during his remarks that violent crime in Macon is lower than the previous year, while burglaries dropped 26 percent and automobile break-ins dropped 21 percent.

Clarence Chambliss, who has lived on Summerhill Drive for the past 35 years, said the Neighborhood Watch group has helped keep things under control, with only a few burglaries since the group was formed. While some of the shootings took place within a few minutes’ drive of his neighborhood, he said any shooting in the city gets his attention.

“Of course I’m worried,” he said. “But I’d be worried if the shootings were in north Macon.”

There are about 30 people in the Summerhill Drive watch group, covering seven streets in a neighborhood that sits just across the street from the Eisenhower Crossing shopping center.

Since Studstill helped re-activate the group for the same neighborhood her mother organized one for years ago, the group has worked with Macon police to reduce traffic through Summerhill Drive, even with the shopping center close by.

Studstill said residents still hear shots fired in the area, especially from nearby apartments, but the neighborhood has stayed relatively safe.

“(The group) makes people aware of who their neighbors are,” she said. “It’s made people aware of their surroundings.”

Judy Gordon, coordinator of the police department’s Neighborhood Watch program, said there are about 115 watch groups in the city, with the number of participants ranging from five to 85 people, depending on the group.

She said many of the groups meet once or twice a month and have e-mail lists to keep residents informed of what’s going on.

“We’re pleased for them to be the eyes and ears of the police department,” she said.

For more information about Neighborhood Watch programs, call Gordon’s office at (478) 751-2797.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.