Neighborhood websites build sense of community

Medford neighbors have found a novel way to thwart crime and help each other through online forums that are closely linked with police.

"Our primary focus is not crime, but that's what everybody is concerned about primarily," said Jacob Stecher. "It's about bringing our community together."

Stecher, 30, and his fiancee, 26-year-old Tiffany Shermer, bought a house last year in west Medford and wanted to do something to improve the neighborhood.

He said he asked Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau to help get the word out about the West Medford Residents Facebook page through the police's own Facebook page.

After a mention from the police, the association jumped from 80 members to 550 almost overnight, Stecher said.

The West Medford Residents posted a lot about the recent arsons but also regularly discuss other problems.

For instance, Leslie Bartyzal posted Wednesday, "We live on Ross Court and are having trouble with cars/trucks speeding down our alley. Anyone else with this problem? Also finding garbage dumped in the alley as well as kids smoking and loitering. Would like to find some solutions."

Stecher said he hopes the Facebook page mainly becomes a place to share community events.

He said he had some extra firewood that he wanted to give to neighbors, so he put out an announcement.

"It's cool people are so concerned with crime, but I don't want it to be the main thing," he said.

The Royal Court Neighborhood Watch has also been helping get the word out through its own private Facebook site. However, many of its members routinely post on the West Medford Residents site.

Budreau said he recovered a Haro bicycle after getting a tip from the Royal Court neighbors.

He looked at a photo online that looked very similar to the bike, which was white with orange lettering. He sent out a message asking for the owner to call his office.

Budreau said the neighborhood sites have been useful for police and add to the body of tips they receive from the public.

"We get a lot of stuff that really doesn't help us, but we also get a lot of messages with really good information," he said. "Anytime you can get more people involved, the more you can solve crime."

Cody Taylor is one Royal Court's more vigilant residents.

The 26-year-old said his girlfriend was looking at Facebook and read a description of the stolen Haro bicycle.

"Hey, that's a Haro bicycle in the courtyard," Taylor remembers saying to his girlfriend before contacting police.

After police recovered the bike this week, it was reunited with the owner.

Taylor said the idea of creating a neighborhood online is becoming a popular way for the community to keep in touch.

"If somebody in west Medford lost something then sees it online in east Medford, they can say, 'Hey, that's mine,' " Taylor said.

The owner of the bike, 34-year-old Joseph McUne, said he noticed it was stolen last Thursday night, taken from his Medford home.

He posted an ad online to help locate it. McUne went to pawn shops hoping to find it.

"My bike got recovered, and I didn't expect to ever see it again," he said, adding that many of the brake components were missing from the bike, and it has a lot of scratches on it.

McUne said he credits Taylor for finding his bike.

"I guess the guy watches those apartment complexes and makes sure everything is on the straight and narrow," McUne said.

Gail Davis, who helped form the Royal Court Neighborhood Facebook page with her husband, said the residents of her apartment complex are vigilant in notifying police about prostitution and drug problems.

"We have a little bit of everything," said David, 43.

Residents of the apartments are mostly disabled veterans, she said.

Unfortunately, some of the residents are preyed upon by crooks looking for drugs or trying to scam the vets, she said.

"We do just about what it takes to protect ourselves," she said. "We keep in touch with the police and the other neighborhood groups and the VA (Veteran's Administration)."

The ability to resolve neighborhood problems has been a hit with many Medford residents.

Cipriana Adelman posted on Facebook, "Just to comment that I really love this idea of a neighborhood site! It makes me feel like there are some people who care about where they live!!"

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or Follow on Twitter @reporterdm.

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