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Watchful neighbor meeting draws handful of residents

March 22, 2001|By DORA DEPAOLI, Staff Writer

HOLTVILLE — Richie Samaha was one of only a handful of residents at the city's first community meeting stressing the need for people to watch out for their neighbors.

Thanks to a watchful neighbor of Holtville resident Samaha, a daytime burglary was halted.

"The police caught a kid in my garage a few months ago," Samaha said. "He was noticed by neighbors."

Neighbors became suspicious when they saw a young man gathering items from the outside of Samaha's house and putting the items in piles. They alerted the police.

City, state and county officials gathered at the Civic Center to update the audience on what is happening around the county and the options available to people if suspicious activity is observed.

Mike Coleman, commander of the county Narcotic Task Force, encouraged people to call the NTF at 352-0380, a confidential hot line.

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"Our function as a task force is to stop dope getting into the hands of kids," Coleman said. "We will do whatever we can to prevent narcotic activity in your community. We depend on information from the community."

NTF Sgt. Joe Nava assured the audience the information received is strictly confidential.

"The last thing we would do would be to put anyone in harm's way," Nava said.

Mike Johnson, director of Turning Point Ministry in Holtville, said law enforcement agencies have been an asset in turning around the lives of many people.

"Use the system," Johnson said. "It is a great tool. We are not going to take this nation back, but we can make a difference, one by one. We have to take a stand. We have a serious problem. It starts in the home. We have a society today that is emotionally illiterate. People act on their emotions. Drugs and alcohol are a symptom of a heart condition. We have to start loving people."

Johnson stated drug users always "escalate" to stronger drugs and they will "master" the drug user.

Jerry Godsey, the county Sheriff's Office crime prevention officer, stressed the need for people to watch for each other. He encouraged people to mark their items with their license plate numbers and to engrave jewelry and photograph antiques. Godsey passed out block watch information booklets.

"Take an inventory of your property," Godsey said. "Have well-lit property."

Meeting coordinator Bob Van Winkle said he was encouraged by those who turned out for the meeting. Plans are in the works for another meeting in April.

Van Winkle, a nine-year-resident of Holtville, cited depression, drugs, television violence, drug use among sports figures and musicians and the divorce rate among the stressful things facing young people.

"We need to come together as a town," Van Winkle said. "We need to rise up. We can change. One of my deepest concerns is what kind of a town are we going to be leaving our young people?

"Too many people are asking: ‘What can my county do for me?' We need to be asking, as President Kennedy said: ‘What can I do for my country?' " Van Winkle said.

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