Burglaries in St. Helena’s northeastern corner have been reduced to nil due to an active Neighborhood Watch and stepped-up efforts by the Sheriff’s Office, residents and officials said.
“We haven’t had a burglary up there in five weeks, maybe six,” said Chester Pritchett, the chief deputy of the St. Helena Parish Sheriff’s Office.
One of the key components was an active Neighborhood Watch, Pritchett said.
“They’ve been putting up their signs,” he said. “It has helped knowing that the people up there are alerted.”
The Neighborhood Watch was officially formed in June after residents complained about a rash of break-ins.
That same month, some residents of the parish’s 6th Ward took to the streets to patrol their own neighborhoods to combat the problem.
Some of those patrolling were armed with semiautomatic rifles and pistols, something Sheriff Nat Williams said at the time could get them in trouble.
“We haven’t arrested anyone (for patrolling),” Pritchett said. “The problem is when you take it past simply protecting your own property.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t ride around.”
The Sheriff’s Office made 16 arrests in June in connection with burglaries in the 6th Ward.
Alton Travis, one of the patrollers, praised the sheriff’s actions in helping stem the break-ins.
“The sheriff’s response has been real good, especially combined with the Neighborhood Watch,” he said.
Travis said he and other residents continue to watch out for each other.
“Everybody’s still on high alert,” he said. “We haven’t started relaxing yet, by any means.”
Pritchett said officials from the Sheriff’s Office met with residents of the 6th Ward and would try to give them as much support as they could.
“We are going to get them some sort of commission status,” he said. “That’s in the works.”
Pritchett said any sort of commission bestowed on the 6th Ward residents would not permit them to go on other peoples’ property or stop cars, but would help them work together more closely.
Pritchett said the parish has also signed an agreement with Tangipahoa Parish Crime Stoppers to start the program in St. Helena Parish as well.
The first case featured by the new Crime Stoppers organization was fugitive Sedrick Smith, who escaped July 22 from a van transporting him to Catahoula Parish, Pritchett said.
Smith, 33, turned himself in to U.S. Marshals in Livingston Parish on Sunday morning, said Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Dawn Panepinto.
Smith was booked into Tangipahoa Parish Prison on one count each of aggravated escape and battery of a police officer, Panepinto said.