Paula's Vigil: Columbia woman tries to create neighborhood watch

Paula Schneider carries a chair from her house out onto her front porch.

She sits down, a cell phone close at hand. From here, she can peer into the inky blackness that envelops her neighborhood.

Paula Schneider is on watch.

It's a vigil she has kept every night for some time. She said she became especially watchful after the July 15 murder of Tre'veon Marshall in McKee Park, near her house.

"Enough is enough," she said. "We gotta put a stop to this stuff."

Her porch offers a good vantage point. From here, she can watch traffic going up and down McKee St. and Orchard Ln. as well as activity in the park. She said she looks for unusual activity such as strange cars or lights flashing on and off. Nothing happened on the night KRCG 13 was there, but Schneider says she sometimes sees people in the park after it closes at 11 p.m.

When that happens, she tells them the park is closed. That usually is enough to make them go away, but she said occasionally she has to shine a flashlight in their direction. If she sees something that looks very suspicious, she calls dispatch to have an officer sent over.

Since June 1, the area within a quarter mile of McKee Park has seen at least six assaults including two aggravated assaults, according to a map linked to Columbia police statistics. That's in addition to two residential burglaries, one instance of larceny theft, one burglary from a motor vehicle and nine cases of vandalism.

This is not the most dangerous spot in Columbia, but Schneider said people don't take their children to the park like they used to.

Schneider said she wants to organize a neighborhood watch and is trying to contact Columbia police about setting one up. She plans to start small, perhaps only including two or three blocks.

When creating a neighborhood watch, the National Sheriff's Association recommends recruiting neighbors and then meeting as a group with local law enforcement to discuss community concerns and communication. Establishing a neighborhood watch does not always ensure a reduction in crime. In 2008, a Department of Justice team reviewed 43 evaluations of neighborhood watch programs in North America and the United Kingdom conducted between 1977 and 1994. A number of these evaluations found mixed to negative results, though the overall body of work the DOJ team reviewed suggested neighborhood watches did lead to reductions in crime.

In the meantime, Schneider plans to keep up her vigils.

"I know it's taking a big risk," she said, looking back out into the night. "I could get shot, but it's worth it not to have another shooting out in that park."