Community Groups Fight Crime With Technology

More groups using smartphones, social media to band together

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, members of neighborhood watch groups in Chicago have taken a hard look at guidelines for their members. While they are getting more and more people involved through social media, they are discouraging anyone into taking the laws in to their own hands. Rob Stafford reports. This story was published April 12, 2012 at 11:42 p.m. (Published Thursday, Apr 26, 2012)

    In the wake of the shooting death of a Florida teen by a community watchmen, members of neighborhood watch groups in Chicago have taken a hard look at guidelines for their own members.

    While they are getting more and more people involved through social media, they are discouraging anyone into taking the laws in to their own hands.

    The Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Watch, with more than 600 members, is one of four Chicago community groups that use Facebook to report crime, sometimes reporting incidents as they happen.

    Among them is Steve Niketopoulos. He's not a police officer, but he does patrol his neighborhood streets looking for signs of trouble. When he sees it, he shoots off a warning message on his smart phone to his online community.

    But Niketopoulos said he's warned community members to never to pursue or confront a suspect.

    That's wise advice, according to Chicago Police Sergeant Juan Clas, who has been supportive of the Ukrainian Village Facebook Page and meets with local residents to discuss crime trends in the neighborhood.

    "Any time the community gets involved and communicates with each other, it tends to have a positive impact in bringing crime down," he said.

    But he reiterated:

    "Never take the law in to your hands. ... First thing they should always do is get a good description and call 911."

    Niketopoulos said his online group was created after a crime was committed against a neighbor.

    Back in August of 2011, a man repeatedly rang the doorbell and pounded on Dena Duslak’s door. Scared, she didn’t answer the door. Despite her barking dog, the man began to break in through the kitchen window.

    "I panicked. I didn’t know what to say. I turned. I ran down the hallway and grabbed my phone off the dining room table and called police,” said Duslak.

    The burglar was long gone by the time police arrived, but Niketopoulos heard about the crime and soon learned that others on the block had been victims too.

    "We have a lot of people coming into the neighborhood robbing people on the streets. We have gangs of two, three to four people who will hide in the alleys who will jump out of cars and try to steal purses," he said. "People will brandish knives, they will brandish guns. They will strong arm people from the alleys."

    Niketopoulos said he and his members are vigilant, not vigilantes, and have had success doing what they're doing. On one patrol, a call to police led to a car with a trunk full of stolen goods.

    Score one for the good guys, he said.