Piedmont resident wants community watch program
by Laura Gaddy
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Sep 04, 2013 | 1347 views |  0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Vincent Cottrell is trying to start a community watch program to help police keep peace in Piedmont. Photo: Anita Kilgore/The Jacksonville News
Vincent Cottrell is trying to start a community watch program to help police keep peace in Piedmont. Photo: Anita Kilgore/The Jacksonville News
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When Piedmont city officials decided to remove basketball goals from a park to keep people from loitering after dark, Vincent Cottrell became disheartened.

A long time Piedmont resident, Cottrell said he didn’t want to see the goals removed because they were used by children and there are already too few activities for them there. But he also understood why the city was trying to squelch mischievous activity, so he decided to try to help the city by taking another approach.

Cottrell is trying to start a community watch program to help the police keep the peace in Piedmont, but he’s not ready to begin just yet. Cottrell wants to take the next year to develop the watch group, which he said would function like a neighborhood watch for the city.

“I definitely think he’s set a doable timeline for this,” said Steven Tidwell, Piedmont’s police chief.

Mischievous activity and vandalism at Veterans Memorial prompted city officials earlier this year to begin enforcing a curfew there.

Cottrell met with the police chief and three members of the city council to discuss his idea. He emphasized throughout the discussion that the group would not carry weapons or take action to stop questionable activity.

Instead, he said, it would be a volunteer group that exists to assist the police.

“I would just sit in my car and observe,” Cottrell said. “You don’t confront anybody, you don’t say anything to anybody.”

Cotrell said he would like the program to include between six and 12 people. He said they would take turns driving around the city to check for problematic behavior that might need to be reported to the police.

City officials at the meeting said they like what Cottrell is trying to do, but due to liability concerns they can not become involved in it.

“This can not be a city funded or operated group,” Tidwell said. “The group itself is going to have to be a volunteer operation.”

However, Tidwell said the police could provide support for the group in the form of training. He said the city could give the volunteer residents basic legal and traffic safety training.

“This could be something that helps us out or that causes us more grief,” Tidwell said emphasizing the importance of proper training.

At the beginning of the meeting Councilman Frank Cobb had reservations about the program because he said it could be too much of a liability for the city to get involved. Once he learned Cottrell wanted the group to be comprised of volunteers, he began to voice support for the plan.

“I really feel like we need to get a lot of people involved,” Cobb said.

Councilwoman Brenda Spears also shared her thoughts about the plan during the meeting.

“It’s just an extra pair of eyes and an extra pair of ears out there to help the police,” Spears said.

Cottrell said he hopes he is able to do something to reduce mischievous behavior so that children in Piedmont can play in peace, but he is admittedly uncertain about whether the plan will become anything more than an idea.

“I am not simply asking for the goals to be put back at Memorial Park, but anywhere they are put up in the city,” Cottrell said in a statement.  “This is a call for me and anyone else that has time to volunteer in the upcoming months and the summer of 2014 so that our children will have a safe, clean place to play.

“The watch group duty is to drive around, stop and observe, not to interact. We should alert the proper authorities to any problems we observe.”

Staff Writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.
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Piedmont resident wants community watch program by Laura Gaddy
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com

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