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Millbrook Terrace: The Horseshoe Has Eyes

One Monroe street formed a Neighborhood Watch after a series of thefts from unlocked vehicles there.

Burglars deciding to case the colonials and ranches in the Millbrook Terrace neighborhood just may be watched themselves as they drive along the horseshoe shaped route, and those daring to pull into a driveway of a house that appears empty run the risk of being blocked in by a police cruiser after a suspicious neighbor makes an emergency call.

Several Millbrook Terrace residents were victimized by a rash of thefts from unlocked vehicles in the summer of 2011, but many have since formed a Neighborhood Watch and because of the increased vigilance, Millbrook Terrace is no longer an easy mark for criminals.

It's currently the only Neighborhood Watch group in Monroe.

Cheryl Taylor and her neighbor Kevin Tornay recently talked about last year's thefts with a reporter, while seated around a table in the Taylors' home.

"Both of us were hit," Taylor said.

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Taylor remembers noticing that her car door was open as she walked out to her driveway at 7:30 in the morning. "I thought, 'Did I leave it this way?'" Taylor said. "I was worried that my car battery would be dead because it was left overnight."

But looking inside the vehicle she noticed that the center console was open and CDs were scattered on the floor. The GPS unit and an iPod were stolen, as well as her husband Jonathan's pair of Oakleys.

"I felt so violated," Taylor said. "I was very angry."

The same morning, Tornay awoke to find the center console of his vehicle was flipped up and his sunglasses and phone battery charger had been taken.

"My wife's car too," Tornay said. "They totally tore her car up. The glove box was open, the console was flipped. Everything was all over the car. My daughter's friend's pocketbook was taken. We were going to take it to her and we left it in the car so we wouldn't forget."

"You're wondering, 'Why would someone come onto your property and go in my car?'" Tornay said.

Tornay's family had moved to the neighborhood 10 years ago, and this was the first time anything like this had happened. The same went for the Taylors, who lived on Millbrook Terrace since 2008.

"I had never left my car unlocked and this was the first time," Taylor said. "My husband used to leave his car unlocked and I got on him. Now we both lock it all the time."

The Tornays also lock everything now, but Michael Ganino, another neighbor, decided to do even more.

Neighborhood Watch

Michael Ganino and his wife Gloria had gotten married in 2001 and moved to their house on Millbrook Terrace in Monroe to raise a family.

"We found a street that's perfect," Ganino said.

He said nearly every other house on Millbrook Terrace has a family with children, so the Ganinos' three kids always have someone to play with.

"We all look out for each other and have kids on the buses, our kids play ... We're going to have a block party," he said one recent Sunday afternoon. "The neighborhood's really close. It's just natural that when things started happening on the street — burglaries and break ins — that we came together."

After the series of thefts from vehicles on Millbrook Terrace, Ganino said someone tried to steal a generator from someone's house.

"The generator was sort of the last straw," he said. "People that we didn't know were walking on the street. I said, 'Let's get organized.' We didn't want to wait until something worse happened to react."

Ganino wanted to start a Neighborhood Watch. He set up a meeting with Monroe Police Officer Matthew Muccioli, then created a flier about it and went door-to-door with his children, Michael, 8, Jonathan, 6, and Deanna, 5, leaving fliers in the mailboxes of neighbors who weren't home.

Of the 35 houses on the street, Ganino said 25 households showed interest and 19 families were able to make the first meeting at the Ganinos' home on July 17. Muccioli and Officer Chris Silkman shared crime prevention tips, then answered residents' questions.

"The officers were really impressed with the turnout," Ganino said.

Crime Prevention Tips

Muccioli said he and Silkman talked about the different types of locks homeowners can buy, installing burglary alarms, the advantages of motion sensor lights and locking car doors — even if vehicles are parked in the driveway.

When going on vacation, Muccioli talked about having lights on timers inside the house and not to leave tell-tale signs that nobody's home, i.e. newspapers and mail piling up or the yard being unkempt.

Then came the "watch" in Neighborhood Watch.

Muccioli said residents should ask neighbors to check on their house when they're away and to always call police when they see something suspicious. Oftentimes citizens don't call because they aren't sure whether something is relevant or not, but Muccioli encourages residents to let police decide.

"The police officers focused on social networking," Ganino said. "Don't advertise that you're going away. You never want to give too much information over the Internet."

Getting Involved

Ganino hopes residents on more streets in Monroe decide to form their own Neighborhood Watch.

"Bringing neighborhood watches to your neighborhood, it's really not that hard," he said. "I have an email group in my email address book. We get the Monroe Patch Breaking News — that's an enormous help for us. We get Code Ed and Code Red."

Code Red is a notification system the town uses to relay information during emergencies such as Tropical Storm Irene. There is a link to sign up for it on the town website.

The Millbrook Terrace Neighborhood Watch is now looking into the purchase of Neighborhood Watch signs and deciding on how often to hold meetings.

Muccioli said police don't get a lot of calls from residents wanting to form a group, so when Ganino called, they decided to run with it.

"It's exactly what we need," he said. "Especially with things like burglaries going on. We need people to be informed."

Chief John Salvatore said, "Any way we can help people feel safer in their homes and in the community, we're happy to assist when practical."

Though no police officer is officially in charge of setting up a Neighborhood Watch, Muccioli said he would be happy to help any residents who are interested. His phone number at the police department is (203) 452-2830, ext. 1336 and his email address is mmuccioli@monroectpolice.com.

"In the future, if there is no interest in new neighborhood groups, we're thinking of having general meetings — maybe in the library or something, so people from all over town can come and ask questions," Muccioli said.

Ganino said, "In Monroe the police are fantastic. They helped us every step of the way with the Neighborhood Watch program."

Geezer October 18, 2012 at 12:13 PM
we still have six families from our watch group formed in the '70's and our sign is still up
Mike Ganino October 18, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Hi Geezer, that's awesome about the watch group! How did you go about getting the sign?
QWERTY October 18, 2012 at 06:07 PM
"Of the 35 houses on the street, Ganino said 25 households showed interest" 25 of 35, REALLY?! Who in their right mind wouldn't be interested in this?
Walt October 18, 2012 at 06:27 PM
I'd check on teenagers in the area...
Geezer October 18, 2012 at 08:44 PM
the police came to our first meeting, got us organized, and arranged for the sign to be installed - I agreed to let the town place it on my property
christine October 19, 2012 at 05:04 PM
This is a great idea with all the recent burglaries in town, and I think a neighborhood watch sign might help deter crime, too. We do watch out for each other in my neighborhood.
Mike Ganino October 20, 2012 at 04:03 PM
@QWERTY, people generally think bad things always happen to others. Hopefully even those who were not interested will help in their own way, even if it's becoming aware of their own surroundings. @Christine, if you need any help organizing, let me know, a sign is never enough...will be glad to help.

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