The residents of Drew Valley have revamped their neighborhood watch program to take a stronger stand against crime in their neighborhood.
Drew Valley is comprised of more than 800 homes in a knot of residential streets between Dresden Drive and Buford Highway in the heart of the new city of Brookhaven.
At the Brookhaven City Council’s first meetings and town hall gatherings, residents of Drew Valley told council members that they are concerned about crime. One woman recounted being held at gun point while she walked her dog. Others recalled burglaries, especially in the homes nearest Buford Highway.
Many residents say they have been pleased with the response they’ve had from DeKalb County Police and want to make sure there won’t be a lag in protection when the new city’s forthcoming police department takes jurisdiction.
Sara Hansen, vice president of the Drew Valley Civic Association, said the renewed interest in a neighborhood watch started in 2011, following a string of burglaries in Drew Valley.
She and her neighbors began what they called neighborhood block awareness — knocking on the doors of their neighbors to exchange contact information “so that we could communicate with our immediate neighbors if we were going to be out of town or something like that,” Hansen said.
Now, the entire neighborhood has been divided into blocks with 10 to 20 homes each led by a block captain who takes the lead communicating with neighbors.
And so far, the program has been a success, she said.
Neighbors are not only looking out for suspicious activity, but they’re getting to know each other better, too.
“It was definitely a very positive experience to communicate with them and make the community feel a little bit safer and more friendly,” Hansen said.
Anand Thaker, a board member of the Drew Valley Civic Association, said there has been a lot of turnover in Drew Valley over the past five to seven years, with young couples moving in alongside original homeowners who have lived there for decades.
“We’ve had a lot of new people who have gotten to know people. I would venture we’ve probably made 100 new connections in the neighborhood,” Thaker said. “They feel more comfortable talking to their neighbors about when they go out of town. A healthy amount of new people have started to engage in this effort.”
In addition to traditional communications like phone trees, the neighborhood watch group is also using technology to stay connected.
Thaker has encouraged neighbors to join a private social network for neighborhoods called Next Door. Neighbors can communicate with each other electronically and post things they want their neighbors to be aware of.
So far, more than 250 people have registered, he said.
“Most people’s sentiments that I’ve spoken to, they’re certainly concerned and want to see more visibility with the police department,” Thaker said. “But I think people understand that they live in a city. Drew Valley has evolved significantly. It’s no longer a sleepy little neighborhood. There’s some level of vigilance that’s necessary for us to have.”
Hansen said while people are optimistic, some of her neighbors are unsure about what the switch to a Brookhaven police force will mean for Drew Valley.
“DeKalb County has a really good program on neighborhood watch. They were really good about meeting with a group of us and giving us information and handouts and tips for safety,” Hansen said. “With the shift to Brookhaven, we’re kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen with the new police force.”
Brookhaven City Councilman Jim Eyre, who represents Drew Valley, said public safety has been a concern from Drew Valley residents since the early conversations about forming a city of Brookhaven.
“They’re seeing some impact from the Buford Highway corridor, from living adjacent to some of those areas, and they have some concerns about making sure the police services Brookhaven will ultimately offer can handle that,” Eyre said. “I think the biggest thing is making sure we have enough officers.”
Eyre said the city will need to use a combination of police protection and code enforcement on Buford Highway to tackle some of those issues.
Mayor J. Max Davis said he plans for Brookhaven Police to have a more permanent presence in Drew Valley.
“Our goal is of course community-based policing,” Davis said. “The threshold is to provide better service, more effective service, than DeKalb could.”