‘Crimes of opportunity’ on the decline in Anthem
Lauren Potter ~ Staff~ 4/15/2015
ANTHEM – During the December 2014 through February 2015 period, the Anthem community experienced a surge in crimes, with theft and burglaries from vehicles accounting for 53 percent of 60 reported crimes.
Thanks to the help of Anthem Neighborhood Watch, Anthem Community Council, and concerted effort by law enforcement and residents, the surge has finally slumped.
As a slow-paced community of roughly 30,000, one of the benefits living in Anthem is that many residents know their neighbors, and residents generally feel safe there, according to Kristi Northcutt, director of public affairs and communications for Anthem Community Council.
However, a sentiment of safety sometimes leads to complacency, resulting in an increase in crime.
“The biggest trend in Anthem has been theft from vehicles,” Northcutt said. “But it has really died down since they apprehended those responsible.”
According to Northcutt, these types of crime are considered “crimes of opportunity.”
“People look in cars and see iPads, laptops, phones, shopping bags, and purses,” Northcutt said.
When car doors are unlocked, it makes it very easy from criminals to open the door, take what they want, and then leave, according to Northcutt.
When reported thefts from vehicles gradually increased from seven in June 2014 to 12 in November of the same year, the community realized it had a problem.
With most of the vehicles involved in the crimes left unlocked, Anthem Community Council knew that education and communication was necessary to address the problem.
“We had to inform our residents because people feel really safe here,” Northcutt said. “You have to say, ‘Just because you’re safe or live in a nice neighborhood doesn’t mean you can just leave (your car) unlocked in your driveway.’”
Community education and awareness was a gradual process, and community resident Teresa Pierson helped get the message out.
One of the original residents of the 15-year-old community, Pierson chairs the Anthem Neighborhood Watch committee, which works with law enforcement officials to help reduce crime in the area through prevention.
Through ANW, Pierson uses monthly meetings, e-newsletters and community outreach to educate community members on crime prevention.
ANW encourages neighbors to form a ‘block watch’ group and law enforcement officials even come to neighborhoods to speak about safety. Some officials provide individualized assessments of homes and make recommendations on how to improve safety.
“We promote crime prevention items by having a free raffle at our monthly meetings,” Pierson said. “Garage door monitors, padlocks for side gates, indoor timers to make it look like someone is home when you’re gone,” she added.
Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which patrols Anthem east of the I-17, and Phoenix Police Department, which patrols Anthem west of the I-17, also helped do their part to prevent these crimes.
“Law enforcement were knocking on resident doors at night and waking people up saying, ‘Did you know your garage door is up and your car is unlocked?’” Northcutt said.
While such measures were startling residents, it helped to get the message out.
“Word spread about that, and neighbors started calling each other saying, ‘Hey, do you know your garage door’s up?’” Northcutt said. “It was really neighbors helping neighbors.”
Reported thefts from vehicles declined 25 percent from 20 at the end of 2014 to four in February 2015.
Other communication tools that the Council used to help spread awareness included public safety meetings, community forums, tips, and information in e-newsletters, as well as text message alerts sent to residents.
Despite perceived community impact, not all residents were aware of the issue nor did they leave their cars unlocked.
“We always leave our garage doors closed,” said an Anthem resident, who has lived in the community for 15 years. “When we leave our cars, we lock them and leave them in the garage.”
The resident, who has “always been a door-locker,” acknowledged that she does not padlock her side gate, but does not see it as a concern.
“What are they going to steal?” she said. “Our bunnies?”