April 19, 2006 - After what appears to be a cluster of petty crime and burglaries, Catalina Foothills Estates No. 7 residents are joining together to form a neighborhood watch, trying to kick the crime from the streets.
Many residents see the Catalina Foothills as untouched from the common crime found in Tucson. But with its expensive homes, pricey cars and snow-bird residents who frequently leave their houses unattended for months, the Catalina Foothills has become a stomping ground for non-violent criminal activity, said Pima County Sheriff's Department officials.
In 2005, 78 residential burglaries occurred within the Catalina Foothills; there were 75 in 2004.
"The main problems are property crimes in this area," said Lt. Tim Hughes of the Pima County Sheriff's Department, at a Report to the Foothills Symposium in February.
The majority of the crimes within the area are random and sporadic, he said.
"They hit an apartment complex for two days and then move on," he said.
The Foothills is divided among homeowners associations. Nine subdivisions make up the Catalina Foothills Association, which accounts for about half the homes in the Foothills, stretching from Ina Road/Skyline Drive to the north, Alvernon Way to the east, First Avenue to the west and River Road to the south.
The most criminal activity has been seen within the Catalina Foothills Estates No. 7.
From Aug. 1 to March 21, six burglaries were reported within "Cat. 7," as Estates No. 7 is commonly referred to. No other subdivision in the association reported any burglaries, according to records obtained by the Sheriff's Department.
The EXPLORER requested a month-by-month incident breakdown from the Sheriff's Department from Aug. 1 to April 9 for the Cat. 7 boundaries.
There were 41 property crimes reported to PCSO, including 16 reports of larceny from a vehicle and three residential burglaries where force was used.
Cat. 7 resident and board member June LeClair-Bucko believes it's time she and her neighbors do something about the increase in crime.
"It blows my mind," she said. "I'm from New York and I've got to tell you, I've come close to more crime here than my 40 years in New York."
LeClair-Bucko moved to the Foothills in 2000 and has been a victim of crime, she said.
A few months ago her car was broken into as it sat parked in front of her home.
The car was completely gutted and her keys were taken along with her home's garage door opener. She immediately had all the doors and opening system codes changed.
The incident was an eye-opener for her. No matter the price of the home and the sense of security felt within the community, it isn't enough to protect you from crime, she said.
"If they're going to be that brazen and go to the front of my house and check out the car, they are going to go to the other neighbors, too," she said.
As a local Realtor, LeClair-Bucko has heard many horror stories from residents within Cat. 7.
One neighbor, who LeClair-Bucko did not name out of fear for the neighbor's safety and to protect her privacy, had her home broken into while she was out of the country. The criminal lived in her home for two weeks and stole her car, while leaving a junky, older car in the garage in its place, LeClair-Bucko said.
Cat. 7 is not a gated community and has no security guard watching movement on the streets of the subdivision, which can be an open invitation to criminals, she said.
"It's a neighborhood you can drive through," she said. "It's not by all means secure. The only patrol we have is the Pima Sheriff's Department."
To increase neighborhood security Cat. 7 has decided to establish a neighborhood watch program, which LeClair-Bucko hopes will bring the community together as it fights off crime.
The neighborhood watch was the idea of board members and neighbors after word got out of the incidence of crime within the area, she said. The response to a survey of more than 300 residences asking if they would like to participate in a neighborhood watch was overwhelming, she said.
The neighborhood watch will be discussed for the first time at an annual board meeting in May.
"It seems that crime is moving up from the city to the Foothills," LeClair-Bucko said. "Cat. 7 is not a very high crime area. Compared to the rest of Tucson, the Foothills is nothing."
That may be true, Lt. Hughes said, but it doesn't mean that the residents of the Foothills should become lax with their security measures, he said.
And he applauds Cat. 7 residents for creating a neighborhood watch.
"It's good to have communication between the individuals in the neighborhoods and the police department," he said. "Because we can discuss things that are of a concern to both of us."
When a community wishes to establish a neighborhood watch program they call upon the Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteers of Pima County and Gerry Innis, director of Crime Prevention for the nonprofit organization.
Innis and his wife Garree work together to establish watch programs around the county and to educate residents on the importance of neighborhood watch programs.
"Together, we're the crime prevention unit," he said.
Pima County has more than 200 individual neighborhood watch programs, Innis said.
Typically a program begins with a few concerned neighbors and then increases when the word begins to spread and the neighborhood watch sign goes up at the entrance of a community, he said.
It doesn't matter how many residents are involved in the program, as long as communication with each other and the proper authorities continue, he said.
And if that happens, a neighborhood watch is usually successful.
"Within the first year the burglaries and things like that decrease around 18 to 22 percent," he said. "It really does work."
In addition to fighting crime, the neighborhood watch is a way to connect neighbors with each other, which is essential when it comes to beating the bad guys, he said.
"Quite a bit of it is just knowing your neighbor," he said, "being friends and looking out for each other. Ninety percent is neighbors looking after neighbors."
A woman who called the EXPLORER and wished to remain anonymous due to fear of another attack, wished her neighbors had seen or heard something on the night her home was invaded, Dec. 24.
Thieves took more than $70,000 worth of goods from her house, including a $60,000 Lexus.
"They took wine and threw it on the wall and broke it all over," the woman said. "They dumped soap and dumped it everywhere; it went into the cabinets. Then they took quarts of shampoo and dumped it on the floors and in the rooms and dumped it on the walls and all over the furniture."
She said she has learned to feel comfortable within her home again, but added she is still fearful the criminals may return.
"The most horrific thing is not the clean-up, not the mess, not the loss. It is living in utter, shear fear that they would return," she said.
She said she would not think twice about joining Cat. 7's neighborhood watch.
"Because we are in a nice area of town, we are becoming more vulnerable," she said. "Letting other people know you are home or not home in your neighborhood and being neighborly is the only right thing to do. If you see curtains closed one day and open the other, and you know (neighbors) are gone, it helps."