ST. GEORGE – Launched eight years ago by Mayor Daniel McArthur, the St. George Community Action Team incorporates some elements of neighborhood watch programs, but with a far broader scope.
The city is divided into 10 sections, each of which has an elected citizen representative who communicates directly with the team of seven St. George Police Department officers assigned to their area. That team’s senior officer, usually a sergeant, then acts as a liaison to city departments including Public Works, Water Services, Energy Services, Code Enforcement, Parks and the St. George Fire Department. The end-goal is for issues observed by citizens in each section to be addressed by the responsible department quickly and efficiently; issues that encompass everything from vandalism and loitering to water leaks and broken street lights.
Awareness is a key factor in the effectiveness in CAT. Police patrols cannot cover every street in every section at once, leaving a void that only citizens can fill.
“We want to prevent crime and one of the best ways to do that is to (have residents who) watch out for one another,” said St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain, who oversees sections 9 and 10. “We ask that citizens contact us to investigate (anything) suspicious. Remember that if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.”
The CAT philosophy also encourages citizens to assist their community in ways that need not involve public safety and city officials. Simple tasks such as watching over an absent neighbor’s house or retrieving the mail for a physically impaired person contribute to an overall improved quality of life.
It is uncertain where and when CAT originated, but many cities across the United States and other countries currently employ the program. Despite variations in name and functions, the same basic idea is shared by all: The establishment of a cooperative relationship between citizens, public safety and city officials for a stronger and safer community.
Karen Jorgensen, citizen representative for section 10, joined CAT three years ago with a desire to become more involved in her community. In that time, being able to work hands-on with police and city officials has left her and her neighbors feeling empowered and hopeful.
“I have seen citizens raise a concern and that concern being met,” she said. “It may not always be the outcome they want, but getting feedback and (knowing) their voice matters makes a big difference. CAT is a new way for citizens to be heard.”
The residents of Washington City will soon be able to share in this opportunity, as a CAT program is currently underway, though still in its early stages.
“CAT is a project that is definitely on our agenda,” said Ed Kantor, public information officer for Washington City’s Department of Public Safety. “We don’t have anything formal in place but it is something that (Police Chief Jim Keith) wants to pursue.”
Though not all are active, every St. George resident is eligible and encouraged to become involved in CAT. The first step is to visit the City of St. George’s website to find out what section they live in. The site also contains contact information for the St. George Police officers assigned to each, who will provide the date, time and location of the next group meeting.
Despain said it is only with the participation of citizens who genuinely want to improve life in their community that the program can succeed.
“I hope that CAT becomes a daily part of neighborhood living and also think that it will help build community pride,” he said. “I believe that by working together we can maintain the quality of life that we all enjoy.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.