If you’ve driven down High St. in the past few weeks, you may have noticed the new Neighborhood Crime Watch signs. Residents in the area, concerned about drug use and other crime happening around them, have banded together to form an informal group to help each other keep an eye on things.
The group was started by Kristen Deforge, a former Vermont resident who moved to Sanford seven years ago, and bought her home on High St. in 2019. As a mom and foster mom of teenagers, she was concerned about drug use at a nearby house which was spilling out into the driveway, front yard and street. Physical altercations on the property and at nearby Carpentier Park, needles discarded in the street and piles of garbage made the neighborhood feel unsafe.
As a former parole officer, she was not shy about contacting the Sanford Police Department to report issues, and her efforts were rewarded when the City declared the property a Dangerous Building in August of 2021. It has since been sold to a new owner and been cleaned up.
The neighborhood watch started very informally, with the simple idea of talking to her neighbors, asking them to watch her house while she was gone, and doing the same for them. Kristen joined the Sanford Police Department’s Citizen Advisory Committee and the idea of a more organized neighborhood group began to take shape.
She was joined by Jessica Warner, a lifelong Sanford resident who lives on Bateman St. with her 11-year-old son and elderly mother. Working at home for the past year, Jessica noticed lead-footed drivers repeatedly speeding past her house and became concerned for the kids and dogs who live nearby.
Working together, the two set up a private Facebook group for the neighborhood, which roughly covers the area bordered by Grammar St., High St., Bateman St. and Brompton St. Their motto is “Safer, Stronger Sanford.” Jessica explains that the group is not about patrolling the neighborhood but about getting to know the folks around you. “You don’t need to babysit the neighborhood, just be a part of it,” she says. The group now has over 30 members. They share information on avoiding scams, preparedness and other resources.
A communications specialist, Jessica is brimming with ideas for ways to connect. One suggestion is collecting dog “mug shots” of every pooch in the neighborhood, so that if one gets loose, it can be quickly identified and returned to its family.
Although Facebook has acquired a reputation for being a negative influence, Jessica says it can also be a positive force, allowing people to connect with their neighbors even if they are housebound.
Both women say the Sanford Police Department has been incredibly supportive of their efforts, and has offered to facilitate an in-person meeting which anyone from the neighborhood could attend to share concerns. The SPD connected with the Department of Public Works to get the Crime Watch signs posted promptly.
For anyone wishing to start a similar group in their own neighborhood, there is no formal process to organize. You can start by making a connection with just one neighbor, and let it grow from there. For suggestions on available resources, reach out to Deputy Chief Eric Small at the SPD at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you live in the High St. neighborhood and would like to join Kristen and Jessica’s group, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/384796580021746. If you don’t have access to Facebook, email email@example.com to join the mailing list.