Last week, the benefits of an active and engaged neighborhood watch page on social media became obvious.
In the Historic District, it, along with some timely detective work by Detective Mark Scruggs of the Columbus Police Department Sex Crimes Unit, led to the apprehension of a man who allegedly was exposing himself to women in the downtown Columbus area.
It happened this way:
A woman was walking her dog along Broadway near Heritage Park when a man in a car asked her for directions, then in the process, made a lewd comment and exposed himself, she told police
That happened about 7 p.m. Saturday, July 29. Details of the incident, including a description of the man and his car, were posted on the Historic District Neighborhood Watch Facebook page less than a half hour later. It was also posted on another Facebook group page targeting those who live in the area.
From those posts, a second woman came forward less than an hour after the original post and reported a man matching the description had exposed himself to her at a downtown business the Tuesday before. She had called 911, she posted, but had not filed a police report. She the did that on Sunday, July 30.
On Sunday night, about the same time the man allegedly exposed himself to the woman on Broadway the day before, a member of the Historic District Neighborhood Watch Facebook page saw a car that matched the description drive down Broadway.
That person followed the car and told police she witnessed a man driving the vehicle stop and call a woman over on Front Avenue. After approaching the car, the woman jumped back suddenly, the witness told police. The witness approached the woman and asked if the guy had exposed himself. The woman told the witness yes, according to police.
They had a good description of the car, and more importantly, a tag number. The police had information that led to an arrest thanks to engaged citizens sharing information in real time. Nicholas Oz Thompson, 25, was arrested on Aug. 2 and charged with three counts of public indecency, all misdemeanors. Thompson entered a not guilty plea.
That’s how it worked. Here is why it worked:
The Historic District Neighborhood Watch is a fully engaged organization led by LeAnn Cline, who has lived in the district for more than two decades. She approached the Historic District Preservation Society three years ago with hopes of starting a neighborhood watch program.
It is not a site to vent. Instead Cline limits the conversation to sharing helpful information to residents.
Today, there are 174 members of that Facebook page, which is private and can only be seen by members. You have to be invited to join, and you are let in after it is determined you live in the district. Almost all of the members live in the district, and all of them have some connection to the district — an elderly parent who lives there or just a concerned property owner. The page includes renters and owners with a stated mission: “to be used for alerts pertaining to safety and security.”
“The difference in our group and some of the other neighborhood watch groups is we all know each other and know what we are talking about when we post,” Cline said.
The other key, thanks to Cline’s diligent efforts, is 75 percent of the people who live in the 25-block area the neighborhood watch covers are members of the Facebook group.
There is great power in numbers if there is a threat.
“If there is any criminal activity, we will post it on the Facebook page,” Cline said.
It is just an example of neighbors being neighborly, looking out for each other, Cline said. The difference is they are doing it with 21st-century technology.
“We have people in all of the 25 blocks, and we have a good view from one end of the Historic District to the other,” Cline said. “We have more people watching out for each other right now than any other time since I have been in the neighborhood. And that’s a good thing.”