Thirty-eight years ago, Carmen Caldwell blew the whistle on her neighborhood annoyance.
“That was back in the Marielista days, when I lived near Okeechobee Road and a place where ‘the girls’ hung out to attract customers, creating a regular annoyance,” she told a West Kendall audience Aug. 28.
“If you can believe it, I was then the only Spanish-speaking person in that section of Hialeah,” she laughed, while describing how her career as an originator and now director of Miami-Dade’s Crime Watch program developed.
“We had one English-only speaking cop who called me to interpret when incidents occurred. My on-the-scene arrivals became so regular that the girls would say, ‘The cops are coming’ whenever my gray Concord turned the corner after a disturbance report,” chuckled today’s Crime Watch boss.
It only seemed logical to Caldwell to put together a neighborhood calling system that could instantly alert police when complaints of potential crime arose.
A nonprofit countywide crime prevention program, Crime Watch follows guidelines of the National Sheriffs Association and is funded by Miami-Dade County, grants and donations.
When a neighborhood watch is fully operative, neighbors become the “eyes and ears” of the local police department, telephoning the police at the first hint of suspicious activity.
“It’s the little things that people notice in their own neighborhoods that can prevent crimes, if reported quickly,”she told the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Miami-Dade Police Hammocks District at its regular 7:30 p.m. last Wednesday of the month meeting at the District Headquarters, 10000 SW 142 Ave.
“Today, our most common Crime Watch complaint comes from foreclosed homes where squatters move in and create neighborhood disturbances,” she said.
“The worst are those with ‘crack’ parties, where people show up for a night and leave. It’s a difficult problem but if a neighborhood Crime Watch is in force and alert, police can discourage if not get rid of such annoyances.
“Keeping a vacated and foreclosed house free of such problems has legal issues,” she admitted, especially paper ownerships that are often unreachable to keep foreclosure properties from deteriorating.
“We’re always open to suggestions and ways to better enforce laws to keep neighborhoods safe and welcome calls to learn how to organize Crime Watch groups — just like my first in Hialeah,” she said.
Now, nearly four decades later, Caldwell will lead an Oct. 4 celebration when hundreds of Miami-Dade Crime Watch members and law enforcement officials from throughout South Florida will hold the 38th Annual Awards Ceremony, celebrating crime-free neighborhoods protected by Crime Watch neighbors.
Outstanding individuals who have played a special role in keeping their home grounds safe will be honored, part of the countywide crime prevention effort that Caldwell credits both Commissioner Jose “Pepe’ Diaz and former West Kendall Commissioner Joe Martinez, a former police officer, with its formation and development.
JD Patterson, Miami-Dade Police Department director, will be the keynote speaker with CBS 4 news reporter Brian Andrews as program emcee at the Doubletree by Hilton Airport and Convention Center, 711 NW 72 Ave. A reception at 6 p.m. precedes the 7 p.m. dinner and awards ceremony.
Persons who wish to support the program can get details at www.citizenscrimewatch.com or by telephone at 305- 470-1670.