Lynn’s Friends of Ward 5 crime watch group aims to make neighborhoods safer

Lynn City Councilor Dianna Chakoutis, left, Ron Yoder and Dolores Yoder on Lynn Common which is part of their crime watch area. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — Their monthly meetings sometimes don’t number more than six residents, but Friends of Ward 5 crime watch members want to swell their ranks and put more eyes on the lookout to make neighborhoods safer.

Friends charter member Dolores Yoder said her Lynn Common neighborhood is safer today than it was in the mid-1990s when drug deals, late-night street fights and speeding drivers put residents on the defensive.

“You could never get a good night’s sleep. A lot of people kept their kids indoors,” Yoder said.

Yoder, her husband, Ron, and Friends member Jennie Grassa credited former Ward 5 City Councilor (now EDIC/Lynn Executive Director) James M. Cowdell with helping neighbors launch Friends of Ward 5.

“Meetings were packed. You had 75 people at meetings and Jim Cowdell never missed one,” Grassa said.

Current Ward 5 Councilor Dianna Chakoutis said busy lifestyles, jobs and family activities make it tough for residents to attend crime watch meetings. But she said Ward 5 and the city will be safer if residents extend the same vigilance they apply to their homes and streets to their neighborhood and the ward.

“Everyone watches their own street. We want to get more people involved,” Chakoutis said.

Friends of Ward 5 takes the winter off but the crime watch’s monthly meetings start again on March 25, 7-8 p.m., at the Lynn Police Department, 300 Washington St., with subsequent meetings held on the last Monday of each month.

Chakoutis urged anyone interested in learning more about Friends of Ward 5 to call her at 781-595-4779. She said monthly meetings feature city officials discussing topics ranging from public safety and keeping streets clean to playground maintenance.

Lynn went through a crime watch frenzy in the mid-1990s when federal money poured into Lynn and other cities to pay for community policing initiatives connecting police officers closely with neighborhood residents.

A crime watch formed around Union Street in 1990 was followed a year later by 12 new crime watches with 16 more formed in 1992 and 1993. A crime watch formed along beachfront neighborhoods boasted its own newsletter and former state Attorney General Scott Harshbarger toured West Lynn with crime watch members in 1993.

Dolores Yoder said Friends of Ward 5 hosted barbecues, got to know police officers walking beats and riding bikes on a first-name basis and worked closely with good landlords to improve neighborhood safety.

“The neighborhood came together and it got better. What really helped us was the police got to know the people on the street,” she said.

Chakoutis said Friends meetings over the years have typically been well attended in response to serious crimes, including shootings, committed in Ward 5.

But she said Friends want to redouble group efforts to show residents that public safety worries centered on their own street more often than not mirror concerns held by residents in other ward neighborhoods.

“Our motto is, ‘If you see something, talk about it,'” Dolores Yoder said.

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