DUGGER -- There's safety in numbers -- as widespread participation in a new Crimestoppers program which encourages Dugger citizens to watch out for their neighbors could cut down on crime.
Now, getting those numbers up is the first priority of a newly formed citizens watch group who will next meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13 in the Dugger Town Hall.
Only three volunteers attended the opening meeting of Dugger's developing neighborhood watch program at the town hall last Tuesday.
Dugger resident Larry Cornelius, who suggested the town form a local Crimestoppers group in early October, was joined by Joe Harbaugh and Ernie Reed in the initial effort.
Now, the trio - assisted and advised by Town Marshal David Heaton - hope to gather at least 20 members in this town of 900.
The program won't require citizens to patrol. There's no uniforms, badges or walkie talkies. All that's needed, Heaton said, is as many watchful eyes as possible keeping a lookout for trouble.
"Around 90 percent of all crimes are solved by people who just see something and report it," Heaton explained. "Very few are solved in comparison by police catching someone in the act. Criminals know this. They watch for me and my car. They won't be watching for you. That's where you have the advantage."
Had someone been watching, the incident which provoked the neighborhood watch might have been solved. Trouble struck Sept. 29 as reckless drivers apparently tore through several yards in Dugger and Jasonville, knocking down stop signs and mailboxes while doing "doughnuts" and tearing up the sod.
Police haven't caught the culprits yet.
Heaton said "all they know about it is, it was a truck with a loud muffler."
Heaton, the sole law enforcement officer Dugger presently employs, was away from home that weekend. His yard was among those struck.
While Dugger previously had two law enforcement officers, the Town Council believes it's unlikely they will fill a vacancy left by the October departure of Deputy Marshal Doug Brown, who served two years.
Brown, who mostly patrolled on nights and weekends when Heaton was away, was a part-time hire.
The town's finances are too tight at present to afford the necessary training for a new officer, council members have said.
In August, amid a round of belt-tightening, local officials said in order to stave off a monthly $4,000 deficit, many employees sustained pay cuts.
Heaton received a 15 percent pay cut, reducing his monthly salary by $352.
Heaton was paid $1,174 biweekly prior to the cuts. Heaton also lost town contributions to his retirement fund, as well as $1,000 which the town contributed to his Health Savings Plan and a $300 uniform allowance. He was among the hardest hit by the cuts.
"There's just one of me, and there's one deputy patrolling in all of Sullivan County. We can't be everywhere. ... If you notice something suspicious at your neighbor's house, or down the street, just report it," Heaton emphasized. "It can be something as simple as someone stealing gas to something big like burglary, or murder."
Cornelius aims to have signs posted in the town informing residents and visitors of the Crimestoppers program.
"For criminals, just asking themselves who else is out there watching me now is a deterrent," Heaton said.
The lawman added that the Dugger Crimestoppers program, affiliated with the Indiana Police Academy, is the only program of its kind within 100 miles. The nearest similar program, supported by the academy, is in Plainfield.
However, the group hopes other communities will pick up the idea and run with it.
"Maybe we will start a trend," suggested Reed. "If not, at least we will be safer."