Concord residents and police form ties

Police Officer Eric Billings begins his night shift driving through King's Crossing, a Concord neighborhood where two recent home burglaries, three days apart, have rippled concern throughout the subdivision and those nearby.

As Billings rounds the cul-de-sac of Craigmont Lane, a homeowner at her mailbox flags him down.

"Do you know what happened?" she asked. "Did the houses have alarm systems? Do they have any leads?"

Billings answers her questions. He gives her all the time she needs. After several minutes, the concern and fear on her face ease.

Neighbors have changed so frequently in the last dozen years, she said, making it difficult to recognize the people close by or learn what's going on in the community.

After a few more minutes of conversation, she steps back from the police car and offers to call if she sees anything suspicious.

That's exactly what Chief Merle Hamilton intended when he introduced community-based policing in Concord, a philosophy that promotes police relationships with the community by keeping officers in the same neighborhoods on a regular basis.

"You get out and you talk to people. Meet people. Be comfortable with folks," Hamilton said.

Community-based policing is fairly new to Concord, now in its ninth year. Officers who work the same beat get to know the people and their concerns. Familiar with a certain area, they notice when something or someone stands out.

Billings has worked the same beat in West Concord for five years.

Results show community-based policing works. Only one district, Adam, which includes the medical and commercial institutions CMC-NorthEast Hospital and Carolina Mall, has seen an increase in property crimes like burglaries and car break-ins. Other districts that make up Concord - Baker, Charlie and David- have seen a decrease in these crimes.

In Charlie, where King's Crossing is located, burglaries are down 23 percent from last year. Vehicle break-ins, another problem in the area, have dropped 33 percent.

"The credit goes to the community," Hamilton said . "So many folks are tied into keeping their neighborhoods safe."

Neighborhood watches, said Sgt. Edie Moss of Community Services, further establish ties between police and residents. Last year, the officers logged 648 hours attending community watch groups and neighborhood association meetings, sharing prevention tips, listening to concerns, and problem solving.

Watch programs are a growing benefit to today's neighborhoods like King's Crossing, where families often move in and out after a few years.

"That's even more reason to start a neighborhood watch," Moss said.

Michael Turner was surprised when he found out his home was the second to be burglarized on his street in three days.

Kings Crossing doesn't have a recognized neighborhood watch program. Association Board President Kelly Mottolese said the neighborhood uses a Yahoo Groups site to spread information, and has security cameras in the subdivision for the board to watch.

An e-mail was sent regarding the first break-in, but Turner didn't see it.

He had wondered if the burglar, who took a laptop, iPod, and diamond solitaire he had just given his daughter for graduation, was young.

Hearing the homeowner of the first break-in also thought the suspect was a youth confirmed his suspicions.

He worries the burglar may strike again, and become more aggressive. The thief walked through an unlocked door in the first break-in, but smashed Turner's back-door glass.

Although the city doesn't keep a count of neighborhood watches, a report from Campbell Crime and Justice Group, funded by The National Institute of Justice, shows a 16 percent reduction of crime in neighborhoods with watches.

Because police can't be everywhere, neighbors getting to know each other can be just as important as police familiarizing themselves with the territory they protect.

On this night, Billings weaves in and out of several neighborhoods. He grew up in the area, and as a kid played in the woods where Big Lots now stands. As he passes, nearly all residents smile and wave, pleased to see him.