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Wednesday, Feb. 08, 2012

Officials urge watchfulness

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Vigilance is the key.

I-WATCH

The I-Watch program, started on post in 2010, encourages ordinary citizens to be on the lookout for anything out of the norm.

“I-Watch is the Army’s campaign to enhance terrorism awareness — encourage community members to help out leaders by identifying any type of behavior out there that may suggest terrorist activity,” said Kevin Clarke, chief of police for the Directorate of Emergency Services.

It could be a suspicious individual, package or vehicle, said Sean Drury, antiterrorism specialist on Fort Benning.

Drury gave examples such as someone wearing bulky clothing in warm weather, a vehicle parked in an unusual place for a prolonged period of time, an unattended bag in a parking lot or a strange chemical smell.

“It’s just simple observation,” he said. “If you see something, say something. Everyone’s a sensor.”

Drury said a large part of the program is awareness, so I-Watch posters are displayed in several places on post where the public can learn how to become a sensor. The posters are typically on display in areas with high traffic, such as the PX, schools, hospital, entertainment venues or bank — places where because of the high volume of people, citizens should be particularly on alert, Drury said.

“We try to educate the community,” he said. “A community is only as strong as its people.”

CRIME WATCH

While I-Watch falls under the Antiterrorism Force Protection program, a similar program, translated for the needs of a family neighborhood, falls under DES.

The Neighborhood Crime Watch is modeled after the traditional police community watch programs of old, Clarke said.

“Historically, we’ve tried to set up neighborhood crime watches (as) a dedicated group of citizens or residents who come together and they talk about things that are problematic and they watch for suspicious activity,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re getting more eyes on the problems. You’re not necessarily seeing a crime, but you may be seeing something that looks out of place. It opens that avenue for residents to call the police in a non-emergency situation.”

The program, currently active in McGraw Village, is available for any community on post. In McGraw, one resident, Danielle Hinkkanen, serves as the cyberwatch coordinator for a website where residents can post anonymous information on suspicious activity in the neighborhood.

“Her efforts have been nothing short of incredible,” Clarke said. “Since she’s taken on this task, she’s been communicating with us daily and providing useful intelligence. By keeping her informed, she’s been able to explain what’s happening to some of the concerned residents.”

The web group is ideal, Clarke said, since many families don’t have time for in-person meetings. It’s provided more useful information in its two weeks of operations than has been reported in a single year in the past, he said.

“All they have to do is look out the window,” Clarke said. “Don’t go out there and engage somebody physically or verbally. Just call us and we’ll get the first available patrol en route and let them interact with them.”

For both I-Watch and the Neighborhood Crime Watch, signs and posters as well as active participation can be deterrents for crime.

“The best defense is an active offense and an active offense is people out there who report this stuff,” Clarke said. “Bottom line is — when people are concerned with something … call the police.”

If a Soldier or civilian on post sees something suspicious — whether it suggests terrorist or criminal activity — should call the Military Police at 706-545-5222 or 706-545-2222. They can also call 911.

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