Are Block Captains Obsolete? Cohen Task Force Adds That Question To Agenda

May 18, 2009

The City of West U. has 43 registered block captains – a position originally intended to help keep residents informed about public safety issues in the community. Police would call the block captain, and the block captain would call the residents on the block. In an age of e-mails and increasingly busy families, the efficacy of the position is in question, especially with such low numbers of residents participating.

 

Councilwoman Phyllis Cohen, now serving her last few weeks on council, said she would add the issue to the agenda of her soon-to-be-formed task force exploring emergency communication with residents.

 

“A heightened effort to get everyone to sign up for e-mail is probably the way to go because the block captain is probably an old system,” said Cohen at the early morning council meeting Monday.

 

Police Chief Ken Walker says interest is high when a crime occurs, then slowly decreases – and many residents are just too busy to add more responsibilities to their schedule. He said also that though the telephone system may be outdated, many older residents prefer it over e-mail. Walker also expressed concern about e-mails from the police department being forwarded.

 

“One of the things about e-mails, once you hit send you have no control over where that message goes that’s a serious concern,” said Walker. “There are a lot of times there’s information out there we would really like to share but we just can’t.”

 

“I envision this being a forum for community discussion for ideas of how information deemed appropriate is to be disseminated,” said Cohen at a March council meeting. “I think we do need to be very cautious of substituting our own judgment for that of law enforcement personnel. I would not venture that we should go in that direction.”

 

Cohen added that the task force will work with the police department to come up with ideas on what information should be given to residents and how it should be disseminated. The block captain system will now be added to the discussion.

 

E-mails circulating the city about an alleged sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl were the reason the emergency communication task force was created.

 

The alleged sexual assault was reported to have occurred in the 3000 block of Drake near Auden between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Feb. 8. Neither the West U. Police Department nor the Southside Place Police Department was involved.

 

Many West U. and Southside Place residents were made aware of the allegations via an e-mail from Southside Police Chief Lonnie Bernhardt. The e-mail identified the victim as a West U. resident, which was false information that Bernhardt says he did not realize was put in the e-mail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

E-mails circulating West U. concerning the alleged sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl right outside West U. city limits has prompted West U. City Council to form a task force to look into how information is dispersed to residents.

 

Mayor Bob Kelly spoke at Monday night’s council meeting about an e-mail thread that was circulating through West U. for a couple of days concerning the reported assault.

 

The alleged sexual assault was reported to have occurred in the 3000 block of Drake near Auden between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Feb. 8. The Houston Police Department is investigating the allegations, and neither the West U. Police Department nor the Southside Place Police Department is involved.

 

Many West U. and Southside Place residents were made aware of the allegations via an e-mail from Southside Police Chief Lonnie Bernhardt. The e-mail identified the victim as a West U. resident, which was false information that Bernhardt says he did not realize was put in the e-mail.

 

Kelly said the task force will be charged with exploring several questions.

 

“One, is there a need to inform people of something like this, how much information do you need to give them and how are you going to give it out to everyone,” said Kelly, who praised the city’s Code Red emergency telephone notification system, but questioned its use in situations such as the alleged assault.

 

“You don’t know whose gong to get that call, answer that call,” said Kelly. “It’s an important tool for communication, but there’s a feeling it has a very limited use. You want to use it in situations like Hurricane Ike.”

 

Councilwoman Phyllis Cohen will serve as council liaison to the task force, but made it clear that she was not interested in overriding the judgment of the police department.

 

“I envision this being a forum for community discussion for ideas of how information deemed appropriate is to be disseminated,” said Cohen. “I think we do need to be very cautious of substituting our own judgment for that of law enforcement personnel.

I would not venture that we should go in that direction.”

 

Cohen added that the task force will work with the police department to come up with ideas on what information should be given to residents and how it should be disseminated.

 

While Kelly brought up the usefulness of neighborhood block captains, a couple of residents present at the meeting said that system wasn’t working. One resident even called the police department to find out who her block captain was, and found out she didn’t have one. 

 

 

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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