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iWatch leader stresses vigilance in combating city's criminal elements

In a presentation to the Sunnyside City Council last night, block watch leader James Stevens, a local dentist, talked about the important role of block watch groups.

He said, "Our block watches were formed to preserve our neighborhoods."

Stevens told the council neighbors looking out for one another help prevent crime.

"We need to have a safe place to live," he said, stating the citizens have a responsibility to each other and their neighbors to ensure safety.

Stevens credited the Sunnyside police officers and local block watch groups for a reduction in crime from 2010 to 2011.

He said, "The criminal element hasn't gone away...it's gone underground."

For that reason, said Stevens, it is more important that those living in Sunnyside are on the lookout for anything that might be construed as unusual activity.

A concern that has been overlooked, he said, is gangs in the schools.

Stevens admitted to not being entirely knowledgeable on the matter, but said he has become more interested in how block watch groups can be proactive and learn more about gangs in the schools.

He also said the citizens "need to question expenses, and examine the issues without mudslinging."

Stevens said block watch groups can be proactive in such a way and the city council can address the needs of the city by being responsible to the citizens.

Being informed, he said, is the first step of responsibility. To that note, he said he feels the citizens are underserved regarding the information they are provided.

Stevens said, "I am concerned that our only media source is the Daily Sun News."

He accused the local newspaper of "assailing" freshman Councilman Jason Raines in an article that detailed Raines questioning legal fee costs incurred by the city.

Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger informed Stevens he was off-subject on the matter of block watch groups and asked him to get back on task.

Stevens argued the media and source of information regarding city matters is a concern of block watch groups.

"There are many issues and council members shouldn't be attacked fallaciously," said Stevens.

He said the local media has a responsibility to support the efforts of the police department and city council. By doing so, he believes, the citizens would be provided accurate information and would be more willing to also support the council and police.

Stevens, in an attempt to make his point, said the question regarding police overtime pay should be examined, but he believes the newspaper hasn't shown proper support of the police.

He claimed there are 150 members of his iWatch block watch group and said he was speaking about the concerns of the group.

Stevens said the group feels the city needs its support, but the city could further improve neighborhoods with a full-time animal control officer and an additional code enforcement officer.

He said improving the neighborhoods involves citizens, police and council members working together.

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