Winchester launches SD&G’s first Community Watch program; decades since similar program anywhere in United Counties

Downtown Winchester, North Dundas, on an evening in late 2017. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

SD&G — Inspired by a brazen act of crime earlier this year, a Community Watch program has launched in Winchester.

Local residents recently formed the group in partnership with the SD&G OPP, and Const. Tylor Copeland says a Winchester home invasion in October was a motivating factor behind the initiative.

The idea is not new to Dundas County, as places like Chesterville and Iroquois previously had “Neighbourhood Watch” groups — individuals who kept their eyes peeled for wrongdoing and similarly patrolled their streets at night. Copeland, however, says it’s been many years since such a group existed anywhere in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry.

Four individuals have founded the new Community Watch in Winchester, with two more added to their number more recently, according to the officer.

The concept behind the program is hundreds of years old. Originally, townspeople would grab a lantern and walk various business districts to prevent crime. Their presence was obvious and served as a deterrent to those looking to commit crimes.

Over the years, the program evolved into neighbours meeting to discuss community issues, learning crime prevention techniques and sharing information. Neighbours worked together to maintain an awareness of the activities that surrounds them and to report crime as it occurs.

Copeland says the Community Watch Program has recently evolved into a variety of problem-oriented Watch programs that are community-driven and police-supported. In partnership with local police, community members may learn how to make their homes and businesses less inviting for opportunistic criminals, how to participate in other crime prevention programs and how to recognize and safely report any suspicious activity in their respective neighbourhoods.

Critical to the operation is continued community support as well as the overall success of each program implemented under the Community Watch umbrella. A community’s specific needs determine which programs are required.  To remain viable, the service must also maintain an adequate number of volunteers on the Community Watch committee.

Copeland says it’s hoped the new committee — while currently Winchester-focused — will grow to include other Township of North Dundas villages as volunteers from those places join the effort. The officer envisions it as an eventual North Dundas effort.

The local group is led by Watch Chairperson Stephanie Seaver. Those interested in joining their group or starting their own within another North Dundas village are asked to contact her at stephanieseaver85@gmail.com.

“Strong individual, community, and police support is what enables a Community Watch program to be effective and by working together, we may all work towards our OPP Vision of ‘safe communities… a secure Ontario’,” the detachment says in a press release.

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