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McGruff the Crime Dog - takes a bite out of Crime. Photo Courtesy Prince William Crime Prevention Council.

Prince William Crime Prevention Council Takes Bite Out of Crime

By Audrey Harman, Contributing Writer

Established in 1982, the Prince William Crime Prevention Council (PWCPC) is a nonprofit organization based in Manassas that promotes the community’s involvement in preventing local crime.

“Community outreach is the council’s sole purpose,” said PWCPC President Irene Pospolita. Working in conjunction with the Prince William County Police Crime Prevention Unit, the council holds local neighborhood and community meetings to promote the national Neighborhood Watch program and to educate area residents on crime prevention.

Run by individual volunteers and representatives of community service organizations, churches and businesses, “the council acts as a liaison between local citizens and the police department and is a forum for both to exchange ideas on crime reduction and prevention,” Pospolita said.

McGruff the Crime Dog - takes a bite out of Crime.   Photo Courtesy Prince William Crime Prevention Council.
McGruff the Crime Dog – takes a bite out of Crime. Photo Courtesy Prince William Crime Prevention Council.

The crime prevention unit and the PWCPC are “partners in community outreach. It is a grassroots effort,” said First Sergeant Ruben Castilla, the crime prevention unit supervisor. To become involved, community members can attend the meetings, or join or start a Neighborhood Watch in their own neighborhood, Castilla said. However, “you don’t have to be a part of the watches to attend the meetings,” he explained.

The council also holds alternating bimonthly board and membership meetings. “These meetings are open to the public and allow every Neighborhood Watch in the community to attend and have a voice,” Castilla said. Prince William has more than 320 Neighborhood Watches, Pospolita reported.

The PWCPC board of directors is comprised of 15 members, all but one elected by council members, who vote every two years. The president, secretary and treasurer are board-elected. The board’s vice president, a member of the crime prevention unit, is appointed.

To help launch and grow local Neighborhood Watch programs, the crime prevention unit during neighborhood and community meetings trains watch members on how to successfully operate their programs, Castilla said. The unit, which includes three crime prevention officers and a civilian crime prevention specialist, first

Photo caption
The Prince William Crime Prevention Council educates residents on crime prevention through community outreach.

encourages leaders of proposed watch programs to spread the word and gain interest for starting a watch. The unit then explains to watch members what is and isn’t a crime, what is suspicious activity, how to report a crime and when and who to call, he said.

“We explain the process and how crime is prioritized so they can get a picture of reality,” explained Castilla. The training lasts about an hour, and afterward, members post Neighborhood Watch signs.

Representatives of local Neighborhood Watches are expected to reach out weekly or monthly to a unit contact to update the team on what has been going on, Castilla said. “There are three contacts in the crime prevention unit for the county—one for the west end and two for the east end,” he said.

To support Neighborhood Watches, the council puts out the “Watchdog Observer,” a newsletter edited by the crime prevention unit and distributed to more than 25,000 community members, Pospolita said. The newsletter keeps readers up to date on crime prevention information, community crime statistics and the council’s activities, she said.

The crime prevention unit also oversees other types of local watch programs that the council promotes and supports. These include the Fleet Watch, which organizes local businesses with mobile communication capabilities, such as employees who routinely drive company vehicles throughout Prince William. The drivers serve as extra eyes to report suspicious activities, Castilla said. The area has more than 40 Fleet Watches, according to Pospolita.

Another is Worship Watch, “which relies on members of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to look for crime and report it,” Pospolita said. There are nearly 20 Worship Watches in Prince William, she added.

In addition to supporting local Neighborhood Watches, the council promotes the Certified Crime Prevention Business program sponsored by the Prince William County Police Department and overseen by its crime prevention unit, which developed the program. The free program, available to businesses in Prince  William County and its incorporated towns, addresses new crime and safety issues within the business community.

The program’s purpose is to encourage business owners to become more involved in reducing the opportunity for crime to occur in their establishments. Prince William has more than 60 of these programs, Pospolita said.

Additionally, the council participates in numerous community- based activities and public safety campaigns to promote crime prevention. Last year the PWCPC, the crime prevention unit, and the retail giant Target Corporation got together for Crime Prevention Month during October to raise awareness for the annual “National Night Out,” a crime and drug prevention event sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. The event, held the first Tuesday night of August each year, is “America’s Night Out against Crime,” when neighbors come together in communities across the country to step outside in a show of united force against crime.

The council and the crime prevention unit also partnered in the annual “National Take Back Initiative” on April 27 to collect expired drugs in the community and dispose of them properly. Under the initiative, individuals throughout the country have an opportunity to safely dispose of unused and expired medications.

The council hosts several fund-raising activities as well. One of the largest is the PWCPC’s annual golf tournament, slated for June 6 this year at Bristow Manor Golf Club. Funds raised during the event, the PWCPC’s sixth annual tournament, covers the council’s budget, according to Pospolita. More information about the tournament can be found at www.pwcpc.org or on the council’s Facebook page.

Thanks to a grant received from Target Corporation, last year the council funded an anti-bullying campaign in Prince William County public schools. PWCPC volunteers distributed pamphlets and resources to schools to help reduce bullying and cyberbullying among students and to educate parents on bullying, Pospolita said.

For more information about the council’s activities or how to start a watch program, call the council at 703-792-7270 or email pw[email protected] The next board meeting is June 10 at the Western District Station, 8900 Freedom Center Blvd., in Manassas.

 

Prince William’s Own McGruff, the Crime Fighting Dog

Some may be familiar with the National Crime Prevention Council’s McGruff, the iconic trench coat-wearing dog and his

“Take a bite out of crime” slogan, synonymous with crime prevention in communities across the world.

“Because he’s a dog, kids are attracted to him,” said Tim Castle, who has been playing Prince William’s very own McGruff for the past 12 years. “Most kids know McGruff and come running.” McGruff is a positive symbol for the police that teaches kids to not be afraid of them, Castle said. “He has a badge and is mostly with a police officer, so kids see McGruff as an authority figure to be respected. He gets kids aware of the police.”

Castle has been with the Prince William Crime Prevention Council for 15 years, and started his Neighborhood Watch shortly after he moved to his newly built Linton Hall Road neighborhood. He said he earned his role as McGruff one hot summer day when he donned the canine costume at a baseball game of the Potomac Nationals, known then as the Cannons. In weather like that, “it’s yours from that point on,” Castle said.

 Audrey Harman, of Woodbridge, has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Spanish from Hollins University and is pursuing a Master of Arts degree in publications design at the University of Baltimore.  She can be reached at ahar[email protected]cewilliamliving.com.

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