Arlington residents who want to beef up efforts by citizens to fight crime are forming the Citizens' Crime Prevention Council.
Arlington County has had an increase in homicides and auto thefts over the past 10 years, fewer burglaries and robberies and only a slight increase in shoplifting and other thefts.
The number of auto thefts has increased by about 78 percent since 1980, to 1,148 last year.
"We're not seeing something that looks like it's rampant," said Arlington detective Greg Kurasz.
Most notably, Arlington has had eight homicides so far this year, compared with one homicide in all of last year and 11 homicides in all of 1986.
"What we hope to achieve is to stimulate the participation of citizens in crime prevention," said Dorothy Stepp, who started the group. Stepp is a block captain of a neighborhood watch group in South Arlington. "If the targets were hardened, they wouldn't be such easy targets."
Often, Stepp said, residents are ignorant of how the police department works and of what citizens can do to help reduce crime.
The council, which was founded this month at a meeting attended by about 50 residents and by police officials, hopes to bridge the gap between police and citizens.
"A lot of people sort of feel the police department is out there to arrest people," Stepp said. "They don't realize the police department will come out and talk to them about security."
As a citizens' organization, the council "will not be an arm of the county government. It will be working closely with the police department for law enforcement advice but will remain independent," Stepp said.
While a police department cannot recommend specific safety products to a citizen, such as a brand of locks, Stepp said, "as a citizen crime prevention council, we could invite a few vendors to a meeting and have them explain their products."
Other activities of the council, modeled after similar councils in Prince William County and the city of Chesapeake, Va., are expected to include promoting the formation and interaction of neighborhood watch groups, notifying police of recurring concerns of residents, forming a network to check on disabled residents and raising money for special projects.
Police officials hope the council can "open some doors we haven't been able to," said Kurasz, who will be working closely with the council. "Citizens have more of a vested interest in crime prevention when they're involved.
"Crime prevention has to be a way of living, of thinking," he said. Kurasz said some residents have helped prevent or solve a crime by practicing foresightedness, such as reporting suspicious activity.
"I think people are hesitant to report someone because they're afraid of getting someone in trouble . . . or they're worried about tying up the police, that they're wasting our time," Kurasz said. "If they would call us, it would probably eliminate at least some of the crimes from recurring.
"We can handle a lot of suspicious activity calls in the same amount of time it takes to write a report or investigate" a crime already committed, he said.
The council also will help revive flagging or dormant neighborhood watches.
Arlington has about 200 neighborhood watch groups that range in size from a few houses to a neighborhood, most of which formed about 10 years ago.
Only about 100 of the groups are active.
"If there's not a crime spree in their neighborhood, they get lax," Stepp said.
A countywide crime council "could give insight to these other groups about how to keep things going," Kurasz said.
Inattentiveness breeds victims, Stepp said. "Since we formed our small neighborhood watch in 1983, the most drastic thing we've had happen was an attempted burglary that was foiled by the owner, and a number of car vandalisms," she said.
"In other neighborhoods around us, there have been more burglaries," she said.