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Neighbors brought together for annual National Night Out

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Tuesday August 07, 2001

Tonight, there are some Berkeley residents who will be alone, locked inside shuttered houses, unaware of who their neighbors are and unable to get or give help in case of a disaster. 

But people in the area of Ajax Place in the north Berkeley hills and on Dohr Street in southwest Berkeley are not among them. 

Most of these people – and some 40 other neighborhoods, organized into Neighborhood Watch Groups – are trained in disaster preparedness and know whom to call if they see criminal activity. And they know each other. 

Tonight they’ll be having barbecues and potlucks, celebrating and strengthening their neighborhoods – it’s the National Night Out.  

In most cities, the Night Out is a time for people to own their streets, unintimidated by a criminal element. In Berkeley, crime’s only one of the targets. The other is getting neighbors prepared to help one another in case of fire or an earthquake. 

Trudy Washburn’s Neighborhood Watch Group around Ajax Place is potentially some 80 families strong. The group’s been together for more than six years, and it’s organized. It has identified all the residents in the area, pinpointing children, pets and disabled people. Detailed maps even show where the shut-off valve to the gas is located on every house. 

Tonight the group will hear from a representative of Disaster Preparedness Services and the fire department. Police will be there to talk one-on-one with individuals, said Washburn, who expects Councilmember Betty Olds to be present as well. One of the high points will be meeting families who have recently moved into the area. 

Over on the 2700-2800 blocks of Dohr Street in southwest Berkeley, Rusty Scalf is getting ready for tonight. He’ll be firing up a barbecue, picking up a sheet cake and collecting door prizes. 

It’s about “neighborhood cohesiveness, bonding,” he said. “So neighbors know each other.” 

The neighborhood looks out for crime – one neighbor saw another’s garage being burglarized and immediately called police, Scalf said. But it’s just as much about caring. “We know who has medical problems.” And when one neighbor recently lost a loved one, the neighborhood got together to offer condolences. 

“We try to combat (anonymity),” he said. 

Just down the block, on the 3000 block of Dohr, and including nearby blocks of Prince and Stanton, another Neighborhood Watch Group will be gathering. “We’re trying to revitalize our neighborhood association,” said Chuck Robinson, a member of the group, which potentially includes some 80 households. 

Robinson said the crime rate in his area has been significantly reduced over the past few years. “While we still have to watch out for burglaries,” Robinson said, the group’s looking more at earthquake preparedness “and the safety and security of our seniors.” 

To find a watch group in your neighborhood, call 981-CITY and ask for the Neighborhood Liaison for your area. Or contact the Police Department Community Services Bureau at 981-5808.