BENNINGTON >> The robbery at Willy's Variety Store a few weeks ago has people wanting their neighborhoods back, and to that end a few of them have formed a neighborhood watch, something they hope will grow.
About 15 people gather at the First Baptist Church on Main Street Tuesday for the first Bennington Neighborhood Watch meeting. It was decided that would try to meet monthly at the church and spread word about the group.
They have a Facebook page, Bennington Neighborhood Watch (https://www.facebook.com/Bennington-Neighborhood-Watch-601956223314298/?fref=ts)
Steve Flynn, who secured the meeting space and spread the initial word, said he will speak to Bennington Police Officer Larry Cole about how Tuesday's meeting went and hopefully bring police to the table for the next meeting. He said he is also willing to bring the group's notes and concerns to a Select Board meeting.
"Basically, after the whole Willy's incident, I said we really need to do something about this, because it's not going to get any better," he said.
On Oct. 23, a masked individual entered Willy's Variety Store, located at the corner of Park Street and Gage Street, brandished a pistol at an employee and took money from the cash register. No one was injured. The incident happened shortly before 6 a.m. No arrests have been made.
Flynn said he would like to see people in the surrounding neighborhoods keep their eyes and ears open, to record suspicious activity, and to report more serious problems to police.
"There's been a lot of different activity going on that hasn't gone on through the years," he said. "People are desperate in this town right now."
Nearly every person gathered talked about either having witnessed, or been the victim of, criminal or threatening behavior, from tires slashed, to being sworn at by a child who'd come into a yard and tapped on a window. One woman said she was out walking and witnessed a male scream at his female companion and take her cell phone, prompting another person out with with their toddler to turn and leave.
"I'd rather have it be the old neighborhood, which it's never going to be, but at the same time it would be nice to have just a little more comfort; know your neighbors, I think that's really important," said Mary Ellen Devlin, whose family owns Willy's Variety Store.
The group discussed what they felt were the causes of these problems and those ranged from poverty, to inexperienced and ill-equipped parents, to a lack of religion. Some recurring themes, however, were irresponsible landlords.
In addition to the neighborhood watch making its presence known and visible, the group wanted more police foot patrols.
Bennington Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington attended the meeting and talked briefly about the EYES program and the Catalyst program. The former is a hotline people can call to report suspicious activity (802-445-EYES) while the later is an effort to improve target neighborhoods by doing physical work on the streetscapes as well as meeting with residents and landlords.
"There's commitment from me, that if there is a need I can help fill, even if it's making sure there's enough stickers to go around our neighborhoods, I'll make sure that happens," said Harrington, who brought EYES posters and stickers.