Waldo’s residents are planning to form their own citizens crime watch after the town’s police department was disbanded in 2014 and crime is an ever-present concern.
City Manager Kim Worley announced during a city council meeting Tuesday that she will conduct crime watch training in January with Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
Worley noticed a high number of complaints about speeding and a concerning string of break-ins this fall. In response, she organized a Citizens Crime Watch meeting on Oct. 29, which drew 36 attendees.
Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies Cary Gallop and Patrick Tombler explained the crime watch’s responsibilities to those in attendance and discussed the area’s burglary cases.
Gallop said the crime watch would become the eyes and ears of the sheriff’s office for Waldo by ensuring residents are looking out for suspicious activity and encouraging them to call for help.
“You almost have to give people permission to call,” Gallop said. “They feel like number one, ‘I’m being a burden on the police department, and I’m not sure what I’m looking at,’ and number two, it’s always this ‘I don’t feel qualified to say whether or not that car is suspicious.’ ”
Alan Huguley, a stay-at-home dad and lifelong Waldo resident, said he doesn’t think the crime watch can replace a local police department.
Huguley’s house in Waldo was burglarized in late August. He said the thieves stole his wife’s heirloom jewelry, his 12-year-old daughter’s stuffed animals, their three bikes and his beard shaver.
He said the sherrif’s office isn’t able to respond as quickly and that the town has gone downhill since the police department was disbanded.
“When you can finally get one (sherriff’s deputy) here, they’re OK,” he said, “but getting them here is the problem.”
Huguley waited almost three hours after he found out his home was burgled for a deputy to show up.
Shirley Ford came home to find one of her storage sheds unchained with the door open. She said she keeps an eye on her street because she can’t afford another burglary.
“My husband died in January,” she said. “I don’t have nobody but myself, and I’m not working, and I’m 80 years old, and I can’t afford for them to be stealing. If I see anything, I’m gonna tell it.”
Neither Ford nor Huguley will be joining the neighborhood crime watch, but they’re already looking out for their neighborhoods.
“The three closest houses to me are all family friends,” Huguley said. “They watch out for us, and we watch out for them.”
Gallop said people need to do more than watch out for each other — they need to call the sheriff’s office.
“If you live in the neighborhood and you call us more often, I, as a zone deputy, think ‘Gosh, I probably should just go hang out in that neighborhood because there’s some unfinished business we need to be helping with over there.’ So I tend to station myself over in those areas,” Gallop said.
An officer hasn’t been stationed in Waldo yet, but Gallop said an increase in service calls could bring more consistent help to the town.
The two-hour safety class with the sheriff’s office is scheduled for Jan. 15. There are 20 seats open for citizens who want to attend.
Worley hopes residents will attend to help make Waldo a safer place to live.
“We need to take care of our city,” she said.