The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 10, 2014

Somerset forming crime watch

SOMERSET — After Vonda Probst’s son, Jared, died of a heroin overdose in July, she said she often found herself sitting at his gravesite late into the evening.

The Friedens woman said she felt helpless, heartbroken and, increasingly, angry.

“Heroin is a cancer that we need to remove from our community,” she said. “And I made a pledge that I’d do whatever I could to make it happen.”

Probst and 11 other Somerset County residents have formed a Somerset crime watch group to aid in that cause, saying their growing group wants to serve as the watchful eyes and ears of communities beset by drugs.

“Police do a great job here, and support groups are important, too,” she said. “But all of us need to be a part of it as well. We have to be aware of what’s going on in our neighborhoods and report what we see.”

Suspicious activity, high-traffic apartments and license plate numbers often can become tips that lead local investigators to dealers, she said. Watch group members, armed with nothing more than a pen and notebook, can learn a lot, even from a safe distance away.

Somerset police Chief Randy Cox said the group approached his department in the fall.

He said the department welcomes their support. As with any community watch group, police stress that participants must operate under “certain guidelines to protect their safety.

“We tell them, ‘Let us know where you’re going to be – when and where,’ ” he said. “It adds to the safety factor. And it allows us to avoid potential confusion where we might have an officer seeing what they think is a suspicious vehicle when it’s actually one of theirs.”

Probst said her group is “still young” but she dreams of a day when watch group members have a presence in communities across the county.

“We’ve got to do it for the kids in our area,” she said. “If we can even help some of them – get them away from dealers and drugs – it would be huge.”

David Hurst is a reporter with The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter. com/tddavidhurst.

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