Lehighton has launched a new program to help make the community a safer place to live, learn, work and play.

Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch recently held its inaugural meeting to discuss bringing citizens together to help be additional "eyes and ears" of law enforcement. Its purpose is to deter crime and make the community safer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Established in 1972, Neighborhood Watch has proved to be one of the oldest and most effective crime prevention programs in the country. This local campaign is an outgrowth of Lehighton Area Drug and Alcohol Task Force.

Program coordinator Byron Schnell gave an overview of this new community organization. He explained that the program helps prevent or reduce crime by educating the community on how to detect suspicious activities and properly report them to the police.

Jim Thorpe Community Watch Coordinator Jamie Solomon and Jim Thorpe Police Officer Eric Schrantz explained that the program in Jim Thorpe started three years ago with small town hall meetings. It started with six members and now boasts 127 participants.

Solomon advised that the Neighborhood Crime Watch meetings should be half business and half educational. She also suggested distributing informational handouts each month and discussing current criminal trends in the Lehighton area and throughout Carbon County.

According to Schnell and Lehighton Mayor Donald Rehrig, a different topic will be addressed at the meetings each month. Suggestions from the crowd for future topics included how to properly call the comm center so that the caller's name and the specific situation are not broadcast over the radio. It is possible to have a police officer call back for the purpose of privacy.

Another topic proposed for a future meeting was how to handle door-to-door salespeople. Lehighton Police Sergeant Joseph Lawrence reminded the crowd, "DO NOT let anyone in your house!"

Solomon and Schrantz also recommended taking walks through different parts of the community in order to "help get the word out."

"Visibility is everything," added Mayor Rehrig.

According to Officer Schrantz, the Jim Thorpe organization and the community walks have helped to make the police more approachable.

"People come up to us now and tell us quietly something that looks suspicious in their neighborhoods. Then, we look into it," he said.

Schnell disclosed the following criminal offenses as reported by Lehighton Police Department for 2011: A total of 111 incidents of theft by unlawful taking – taking anything that belongs to someone else; 102 incidents of criminal mischief – damaging or tampering with someone else's property; 23 burglaries; and 18 assaults.

"You know your neighborhood. If you see something out of the ordinary, DO NOT – I repeat – DO NOT personally confront the situation," said Mayor Rehrig. "Call the police immediately and await their arrival."

He continued, "Do not worry about being embarrassed if your suspicions prove to be unfounded. It is better to think of what could have happened if you didn't act … Care enough to call!"

Individuals, families, businesses, and other organizations are being asked to make donations to the newly-formed program in order to purchase signs to be erected throughout the Lehighton area.

Solomon applauded this initiative.

"Crime Watch signs help to deter criminals," Solomon said. "They don't like to be watched!"

Schnell added, "Convicted burglars have reported avoiding neighborhoods that have these signs."

In addition to the metal signs, the group also looks to purchase decals, bumper stickers, and T-shirts.

To help grow the organization, the panel discussed having a meeting in each of the townships that comprise Lehighton Area School District – East Penn, Franklin and Mahoning in addition to the borough, and then bringing everyone together.

As with most things these days, it was noted that social media, email blasts, and information on a website are important ways to disseminate information. However, these electronic activities should not take the place of actually attending the Neighborhood Crime Watch meetings.

Lehighton Area High School Assistant Principal Daniel Repsher remarked, "It's important to build a sense of community by coming out to the meetings and getting together."

The next Lehighton Area Neighborhood Crime Watch meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 27 at 6:30 p.m. at Lehighton Area High School. All interested community members are invited and encouraged to attend and become involved.

For more information, to volunteer, and/or to make a donation to the community-wide program, contact Schnell at (610) 377-1926.

For more information about a Neighborhood Crime Watch program in general, visit www.USAonWatch.org.