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November, 2003

Watching the Neighborhood, Part I

By Jeanette Pontacq

As most know, there has been a recent outbreak of months'-long harassment, vandalism and intimidation of residents around Tomales Bay by a larger-than-originally-thought group of local teens from Tomales High. On a KWMR Epicenter program (October 15), the offer was made on air to have them come forward and take responsibility for what they had done and no real charges would be pressed. The same offer had been made a month previous in the Point Reyes Light by Jeff Hickey of Inverness, a victim.

Only days later, several of the perpetrators came forward to begin the process of apologizing to victims. This is a happy first for Tomales Bay.... and has opened up a general community conversation on a number of important levels. Not least of which is the amazing ability of too many of us not to really know our neighbors. Another amazement is how many of us don't even know our neighbors' phone numbers in an emergency.

A case in point is the reaction of victims in the latest harassment debacle: most called 911, but did not inform their neighbors to ask if they had also been hit. Further, a number of peripheral victims say they were so worried about being re-victimized that they did not want to say what and who they saw do "whatever." The pc part of me wants to say that I understand and have sympathy for their reticence... but the non-pc part of me wants to tell those particular victims to be part of the solution and speak up!

Since the Sheriff's Department is stretched very thin in West Marin, there is usually a relatively long wait for a visit, if one occurs at all. After all, if there is a shooting in Bolinas or Stinson Beach, it is more likely than not that a vandalism or harassment victim in Inverness will be spoken to by phone and then put on the law enforcement back burner. Triage is done by law enforcement when so few deputies are available. Further, this issue has shown that citizen participation was much more effective (i.e. Jeff Hickey of Inverness and KWMR) than a Sheriff's investigation which was getting pretty much nowhere. It is thus best to be realistic about the possible outcomes of any non-life-threatening call to 911!

Soooo, what to do? Let's take a hypothetical resident of West Marin... describe them yourselves! They have had their house body slammed, egged and smoke bombed repeatedly over a month, with assaults at least twice a week. What do they do?? How would you feel in their place?

I asked Lieutenant Rich Ginnado of the Sheriff's Department that question on KWMR's Epicenter program, October 15. I suggested that it seemed silly to ask them to chase down the potential teen assailant, wrestle and handcuff them in the dark, and then call 911 to wait for the arrival of far-flung deputies. Even Lieutenant Ginnado thought that was unrealistic and even dangerous! So, then, what do the West Marin residents really do?

It has taken months and months during which multiple Inverness and Point Reyes Station residents have been victimized big time without law enforcement being able to make any arrests or even frankly speak to the perpetrators' parents. So, again, what can any of us expect to happen when depending upon law enforcement when our lives are disrupted by such serious domestic terrorism? The answer is relatively nothing. We need to get that straight. Once straight, it then frees us to think outside the box as to the next step...

The answer is to depend upon our collective selves, not law enforcement! Law enforcement should be a tool for us, not the only recourse when things go wrong. To make it a tool and empower ourselves, I would suggest that a West Marin version of Neighborhood Watch is the way to go.

What is Neighborhood Watch? It is an admittance that residents (i.e. us) cannot depend totally on the Sheriff's Department to keep things civil. We, the people of West Marin, need to be involved and take the initiative to protect ourselves, our kids and our property. That's just the way it is now...

So what does that mean for each of us? It means that an involved and concerned "us" is key to protecting families, individuals and properties. Homeowners and renters together in any West Marin village can have a huge impact on crime and vandalism by simply being aware and ready to help victims and id perpetrators. It means that residents of each area have the phone numbers of all the other residents so that they can immediately communicate. It means we stand together for a sane response to potential victimization. It means that we are not alone!

Jeanette Marie Pontacq

Point Reyes Station, Ca

415 663 1700

[email protected]

Freedom: Use it or lose it!

 

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