GPD seeks compassionate citizens to join Neighborhood Watch

Enterprise file photo — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Matt Hanzalik of the Guilderland Police works with Altamont fifth-graders as part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program. He is now helping to start a Neighborhood Watch Program in Guilderland.

GUILDERLAND — Investigator Matthew Hanzalik is hoping a new Guilderland Police initiative will help restore an old-fashioned sense of community in various parts of town.
Next Tuesday, Sept. 14, Guilderland residents are invited to a 6:30 p.m. in-person meeting at Town Hall to learn about a nascent Neighborhood Watch Program.

“You’d have a small group within a neighborhood that would be vigilant,” said Hanzalik. The residents would report concerns to the police and would also disseminate information to neighbors, Hanzalik said.

Started in 1972, the National Neighborhood Watch Program has branches throughout the United States.

“Not only does neighborhood watch allow citizens to help in the fight against crime, it is also an opportunity for communities to bond through service,” says the national program’s website. “The Neighborhood Watch Program draws upon the compassion of average citizens, asking them to lend their neighbors a hand.”

Although neighboring communities, as close as Rotterdam, have long had Neighborhood Watch Programs, Guilderland never has, Hanzalik said.

Asking why Guilderland Police are launching one now, he said, “We’re looking to get more involved with the community.”

Asked how many people are expected to attend the inaugural meeting, on Sept. 14, Hanzalik said he didn’t know, adding, “The more, the merrier.”

The hope, he said, is to draw a number of people who would be interested in getting training and eventually to set up different watch groups in various areas of town, including Fort Hunter, Westmere, McKownville, and Guilderland Center.

The watch groups could engender a sense of community in an era of isolation, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. “We’re hoping to bring back a sense of community so that neighbors get to know their neighbors,” said Hanzalik.

Some watch groups, for example, host block parties, he said.

Hanzalik started as a dispatcher with the Guilderland department in 2000 and has been an officer for 13 years. He is one of three  — out of 40 — Guilderland police officers who works in the Community Services Unit.

Hanzalik teaches fifth-graders in Drug Abuse Resistance Education, known as the DARE program, and also works with the Explorers, young adults between the ages of 13 and 21, who are mentored by police.

The other two officers in the unit are Patti Stallmer and Sean Ralston, who works as a resource officer in the Guilderland schools.

Hanzalik has this advice for any Guilderland resident who is curious about a Neighborhood Watch: “Just come out and see what it’s about.”

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