Minority Affairs Task Force looks to social media as new crimefighting tool

Would-be criminals in Collier County may have a new obstacle that quashes their designs on committing neighborhood crime — social media.

During the second monthly meeting of the 2012 Collier County Sheriff’s Office Minority Affairs Task Force (MATF), Crime Prevention Specialist Sgt. Rebecca Gonzalez presented the topic of proactive neighborhood crime prevention. Gonzalez issued a lively invitation for the public’s formation of more local Neighborhood Watch groups, and then encouraged taking the additional step to fight crime by combining the Neighborhood Watch program with the force of social media as an added crime prevention strategy.

“Times have changed,” Gonzalez said during the one hour presentation, “and we’ve got to change with them. What worked 40 years ago doesn’t always work today.

“We are trying to get you involved,” Gonzalez continued, this time speaking directly to the audience. “We are trying to get into online social media. Social media is not a fad. We really want to see a new Neighborhood Watch strategy. Facebook is one way to go beyond the concept of ‘one person to many’ and be ‘many to many’.”

Programs to prevent crimes are not new to Collier County. The challenge, according to MATF event organizer, Lt. René Gonzales, is getting the communities involved in these types of programs.

“The Minority Affairs Task Force was started about six years ago,” he said, “in an effort to reach into all communities, including ones where involvement has been traditionally low.”

One such area, according to Gonzales, is the neighborhood surrounding Bayshore Drive and Thomasson Drive in East Naples.

“Our goal is to reach everyone. To reach into the communities, including minority areas, we have officers that go into the neighborhoods and distribute literature in different languages. We bring the information we have, such as flyers and pamphlets on the available resources, right into the communities. We shake their hand. We hope people will then call us so we can help them with the resources,” said Gonzales.

In addition, Gonzales said he recently went on the Spanish news channel, Teledario, to talk about the resources offered by the Sheriff’s Office.

During the MATF presentation, Sgt. Gonzalez added, “We will come and help you set up the Neighborhood Watch program. We will help you set up Facebook. If you don’t have a Facebook account, we will help you start one.”

Going viral against crime is a trend that is piquing law enforcement agencies around the nation. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, places such as Kennesaw, Ga., Roanoke, Va., and Sacramento, Calif., are among those using Facebook or Twitter to enhance crime prevention. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office wants to help members of communities join this revolutionary tactic to fight crime.

The first step, according to Sgt. Gonzalez, “is to contact the Sheriff’s Office and ask for help in organizing your own Neighborhood Watch. That way, you and your neighbors take a stand to be the ears and eyes for the Sheriff’s Office. We will teach you how to have a successful Neighborhood Watch.”

The presentation did not go without challenges from the audience.

“The problem is,” said Renato Fernandez, vice president for the homeowners association at the Shores of Naples, “a lot of people come back to Naples from up north, or from Canada, and they don’t want one of their neighbors calling them to tell them they left their garage door open. They don’t want to be told what to do.”

Sgt. Gonzalez responded to Fernandez by saying, “Unfortunately, the time we get the most interest is when there is a rash of crime in the neighborhood. It’s time for a change of mindset. If we approach it right, more people will get involved. That is our goal.

“We don’t want you to be paranoid,” said Lt. Gonzales, “but we want criminals to know we are vigilant. And when we get community involvement, when we get interest, talent and abilities into one room, the sky is the limit. We want to broadcast the philosophy that we are here to edify and build up trust with our fellow neighbors.”

For more information on the Neighborhood Watch program, setting up a social media site, and the broad range of other resources available free of charge from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, call the law enforcement agency at 252-0700 or visit colliersheriff.org. The Sheriff’s Office has new signs to replace existing Neighborhood Watch signs. According to Sgt. Gonzalez, the new signs are more aesthetically pleasing.

“We can’t discourage the criminal mind,” said Sgt. Gonzales in closing, “but we can remove the opportunity to commit the crime.”

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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