Gulfport’s CERT Volunteer Coordinator Jim Wright has lived in his Tyrone area neighborhood for 25 years. He said he’s watched people come and go and seen the neighborhood change, but one thing has always been constant: Wright and his watchful eye.
“If I see someone’s got a package from UPS I have their phone number so I can call them up and see if they’re going to be home soon. I keep an eye out for strange people and strange cars,” he said. “I’ve got all the emails and phone numbers for the people on my street.”
Looking out for UPS and Amazon packages prevents what Wright calls “Porch Pirates,” people looking for unattended packages to snatch.
Although Wright is not an official block captain of a neighborhood watch where he lives, he says he’s essentially doing the same things any block captain would do. A short list of responsibilities he says he’d like to see more people take on in Gulfport.
Currently Gulfport has four neighborhood watch block captains, volunteers who keep a close eye on their street and notice when things seem a little off. John Baker, William Seawall, Mary Hanrahan and Diane Griffin took a leadership role in their neighborhood watch a few months ago, after a little training provided by Jim Wright and CERT. The training covered the do’s and don’ts of a solid neighborhood watch, and provided the four with captain badges and shirts.
A big part of the training Wright says, stresses that block captains are not law enforcement and shouldn’t act as such. Wright’s advice? “Make a phone call. Don’t approach anyone strange, and if you think something might be up, get a good description and call it in,” he said. Getting a photo can be difficult, because the subject may be far away, and approaching a strange person can be dangerous.
Mary Hanrahan has lived in Gulfport for four years. “It’s fun,” Hanrahan says, speaking about her block captain experience. So far, she has introduced herself to her neighbors by traveling door to door to hand out flyers about Gulfport’s Night Out on August 2. Hanrahan has been a block captain for about a month.
Next up, Hanrahan plans to collect email and phone numbers for all the people living on the block.
“When the city has emergency information that needs to get out, we can help distribute that,” she said. “There are people in the neighborhood who don’t have internet, and we need to call them up or go around and knock on their door to make sure they can be taken care of.”
Currently, the block captains are located in the Marina district of Gulfport, but the city would benefit from neighborhood watch leaders in other Gulfport neighborhoods. Wright is focusing his efforts on recruiting block captains to keep an eye on the arts district of Gulfport (the neighborhoods behind the Strand building, including Town Shores,) and also the area surrounding Stetson University.
“This is our city!” said Wright. “If you want to make changes, you need to get involved and be a part of the solution. I’m pretty determined to get things going.”
To get involved, residents can contact Jim Wright directly at 727-309-9260 or come out to a weekly neighborhood watch meeting. Meetings are held each Wednesday at 7 p.m. and rotate in location. A list of meeting locations is available online at gulfportpolice.com/crime-prevention.