Lynden Watch

Car prowlings down; some crimes have been solved

LYNDEN — Over the past year, a neighborhood watch group called Lynden Watch has been steadily growing to meet what some citizens see as a need for more eyes looking out for crime in the city. In the process of forming with the help of the police department, city council and social media, citizens have even assisted in catching suspects in a few crimes. 

A movement began taking shape last fall to bolster safety in the community amidst concerns about a lack of adequate police presence and response time to 911 calls in Lynden. Until May, the department was below a full complement of 16 officers, with as many as three vacant positions over the past two years.

The group began to take action when a number of break-ins, thefts and vehicle prowls occurred last summer and continued through to spring, raising anxiety among city residents.

According to the Facebook page for the group, supported by Lynden City Council member Mark Wohlrab, members of the community have assisted in helping officers find perpetrators in three separate cases of theft or vehicle prowling this year, one instance being a series of vehicle catalytic converter thefts in the county earlier in the year.

Posts by the group’s active Facebook page about crimes have been shared upwards of 500 times to spread the word. Wohlrab said the capacity for a post to get out to the community quickly makes the page a useful resource.

Wohlrab and police officer Nathan Dunn have been at the helm of the group’s development, helping to organize meetings and spread the word about the group, starting with a general-interest meeting last year. The program, which is a cooperation between city hall, the police department and community members, helps the city as a whole to feel safer, Sergeant Russ Martin said.

“It’s a program that empowers people,” Martin said.

Officer Dunn said members of Lynden Watch are not expected to do the work of police officers, but to assist in keeping the community safer by being perceptive. 

“Our goal is to have as much participation as we can,” Dunn said. “Our hope is to have these be a community effort of 14,000 pairs of eyes.”

The structure of the program involves about nine different city sections, which are now in the process of being mapped out, each of which has block contacts who will meet four times per year. These block contacts receive training from officers and send out updates to people in their neighborhood section. 

Dunn said the training for Lynden Watch volunteers does not involve explicit bias training that police officers receive, but instead they understand how to gather the basic details of a situation or suspect. 

The training for volunteers and block contacts teaches citizens what to look for in regard to crime and how to assist police in gathering useful information. Dunn said knowing when to call the police with information such as a license plate number and more detailed physical description of suspicious persons can go a long way in helping officers catch suspects for crimes such as theft or car prowling.

Wohlrab said the city recently approved a $10,000 initial budget for the Lynden Watch group, which will have an informational booth at this week’s Northwest Raspbery Festival.

In 2018 there were 57 reported car prowling incidents in Lynden, nearly half of which took place in July and August, according to police department statistics. There have been only 17 prowling incidents in Lynden thus far in 2019. 

According to the National Council for Home Safety and Security, Lynden is among the top ten safest cities in the state, listed in eighth place for 2019.


Police department transitions

The Lynden Watch program began under former police chief John Billester, who retired at the end of June. Former Ferndale Police Chief Michael Knapp is serving as interim chief until a new permanent chief is chosent. 

It a July 11 city Public Safety Committee meeting, Knapp said he will be conducting an internal audit of the Lynden Police Department over the next month. 

According to Knapp, the department will be switching over to high-band frequency radios rather than low-band at the end of the month, better ensuring that frequencies will reach department transmitters, Knapp said. He also cited a need for more vehicles in order to carry out 24-hour surveillance and for more manpower on various shifts. 

Officer Matthew Thompson, who was sworn in last year and is also a U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, was recently deployed to the Rio Grande Valley along with nearly 1,000 other reservists to assist in processing the influx of Central and South American immigrants. The order came from Texas governor Greg Abbott, who cited an “escalating crisis” at the border.