Neighborhood watch goes virtual: Calif. PD using Zoom to bolster watch efforts

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tustin Police Department kept the lines of communication open in their community by using Zoom to host virtual meetings


Reprinted with permission from Behind the Badge

By Cathi Douglas

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything about how we live our lives, and that's no different for the Tustin Police Department and its community policing programs.

Police Services Officer Zhanna Ismailova represents the south neighborhoods of Tustin.
Police Services Officer Zhanna Ismailova represents the south neighborhoods of Tustin. (Photo/Tustin Police Department)

For example, take neighborhood watch.

Traditionally, neighborhood watch groups in Tustin would hold occasional meetings in driveways, cul-de-sacs, or community rooms with representatives from the police department informing residents about crime and other issues such as graffiti, homelessness, traffic and parking.

Because the pandemic makes face-to-face meetings practically impossible, the department’s Community Relations division has been utilizing Zoom videoconferencing technology to host virtual meetings and is increasing its social media outreach through apps like NextdoorInstagramFacebook and Twitter to keep the lines of communication open.

"We wanted to still engage with the community and virtual programming wasn't something we were using," said Police Services Officer Jennifer Dlugitch. "These platforms (such as Zoom, FaceTime and Google Hangouts, to name a few) are available, and they allow people to join from wherever and whenever they can so they don't have to rush home from work or take time to do personal business on the job."

Dlugitch, the community relations liaison for the north Tustin area, and her partner, Police Services Officer Zhanna Ismailova, representing the south neighborhoods, created a live Zoom presentation that includes reports from the patrol, traffic, gang suppression and community relations teams.

A presentation by the Tustin Police Department provides important information to neighborhood watch groups in the city during the pandemic.
A presentation by the Tustin Police Department provides important information to neighborhood watch groups in the city during the pandemic. (Photo/Tustin Police Department)

The meeting's agenda focused primarily on the work of two key policing teams: the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force (NITF) and the Gang Reduction and Directed Enforcement (GRADE) team.

Among the news:

  • Officer Michael McJunkin of the traffic unit reported on the department's successful suppression of street racing and intersection takeovers, which has made Tustin a model for other Orange County cities dealing with the same dangerous issue. McJunkin says a single intersection takeover – a crowd-attracting event involving several vehicles maneuvering at high speeds in a confined area – can cause upwards of $50,000 in damages.
  • As a result of the department's ongoing suppression efforts, street racers are skipping over Tustin and mounting their events in other cities.
  • Manny Arzate, who directs the NITF, reported on the work of the department's homeless liaison, including the removal of a homeless encampment at an abandoned business. The department works with the city's code enforcement office, as well as representatives from economic development departments, the Tustin Unified School District, the Orange County Fire Authority and other organizations to address key issues.
  • Dave Welde, director of the GRADE program, says the department has 10 gang reduction officers in two teams working seven days a week to safeguard against five to seven different gangs operating in and around Tustin. Welde says officers concentrate on identifying and quickly removing gang graffiti, which marks a gang's turf or indicates when gangs are challenging each other for territory.

The virtual neighborhood watch block captains meeting was the brainchild of Sgt. Sarah Fetterling, who supervises Dlugitch's and Ismailova's community policing work. Fetterling wanted to ensure a continuing dialogue with the Tustin community by providing a virtual check-in with the police department's units, beginning with an introduction by Tustin Police Chief Stu Greenberg.

Currently, Tustin has 965 neighborhood watch members representing 153 neighborhoods throughout the city, Dlugitch said. Because Tustin currently has a population of about 79,795, there is room for growth in community involvement.

In addition to the virtual neighborhood watch meetings, the department is also doing more social media outreach to increase awareness, Ismailova said, including a recent successful campaign advertising the benefits of the neighborhood watch program.

NEXT: 5 Zoom and webinar presentation tips for LEOs

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