Editor’s Note: Photos appearing in this article are courtesy of Lynn Melin.
The Virginia-Highland Safety Team held its annual street captain gathering on Saturday September 14 at the Church of Our Saviour on N. Highland Avenue. By all accounts, it was a well-attended and informative half-day session with over thirty street captains on hand.
John Wolfinger started the Street Captain program in 2007 when he was Safety Chair for the Virginia-Highland Civic Association. Street captains are a network of VaHi residents who’ve volunteered to stay connected with and promote safety-related initiatives to residents in their watch area. They welcome new residents to the neighborhood, make them aware of the VHCA and other neighborhood services and encourage them to get involved by meeting and, most importantly, getting to know their neighbors.
Street captains use email to distribute Wolfinger’s periodic safety report, and also to alert residents to more immediate safety concerns. The connectivity provided through the program has directly aided in the apprehension of wanted criminals on more than one occasion.
Wolfinger retired from the VHCA board a few years ago but his street captain program is as strong as ever. There are more than 85 street captains who are responsible for watch areas that represent about 80 percent of the community. In case you’re interested in volunteering yourself, street captains are still needed for the following areas:
- St. Louis Place
- Ponce Place (single family homes)
- N. Highland Ave. (between Virginia Ave. and Lanier Blvd.)
- Monroe Dr.
- Briarcliff Rd.
- Cresthill Ave. (west of Monroe)
Saturday’s meeting was an opportunity for street captains to get updates on what’s new and different around the neighborhood, exchange best practices for staying in touch with residents and hear presentations from Atlanta Police Department Captain Brent Schierbaum and Reiko Ward from the Fulton County District Attorney’s office.
Formerly Sector Sergeant for the APD’s Zone 6 (of which VaHi is a part) and then Lieutenant in charge of COPS (Community Oriented Policing Section), Schierbaum is now interim director of the department’s 911 call center. Schierbaum provided the group with insight into the call center’s inner workings, as well as information and guidelines that can help residents get the most out of using the system. For example, Schierbaum said that, when calling 911, the most critical information to have ready is:
- Exact location (as specific as possible)
- Nature of the problem (medical, police, fire, etc.)
- When reporting a crime or suspicious activity, provide specific details as to the suspect’s physical description (height, weight, skin color, tattoos or other distinguishing characteristics) and what the suspect is wearing (color of shirt/pants, jewelry, hat, shoes, backpack, etc.).
- In case of fire, advise the call taker if anyone is inside the structure or if there are any hazardous or flammable materials in the area.
Reiko Ward coordinates the Citizen’s Court Watch program for the Fulton County DA’s office. Courtwatch empowers citizens by providing an understanding of the criminal justice system and encouraging people to take an active role in the process. Through the program, residents are made aware of opportunities to come to the courthouse and watch a trial or hearing that often has local significance. Ward said having the community present at trials could make a difference in sentencing by letting the judge know that residents are concerned about the outcome of the case.
Wolfinger is proud of how the street captain program has grown and the difference it makes helping residents feel safer about the world in which they live.
“I’ve watched the VaHi Safety Team – our neighborhood watch initiative – grow not only in number of involved citizens,” Wolfinger said, “but in importance in creating connectivity among residents and raising awareness of what goes on around us everyday. None of this would be possible without the dedication of the street captains who are at the very heart of our neighborhood watch system. It says a lot about the commitment of these folks that they’d take half their Saturday and spend it learning more about how they can help their neighbors,”
“I also want to thank Father John Bolton for graciously hosting our meeting at his church,” Wolfinger continued, “as well as San Fransisco Roasting for providing the coffee and the BeltLine Kroger for donating pastries.”
If you’ve yet to be contacted by the street captain for your area, visit vahi.org and click on the ‘Sign Up to Receive Updates’ button. On the form that appears, make sure the Safety Reports box is checked and be sure to enter your name, email and street address at the bottom of the screen before clicking on Submit so we know where to find you.