Cotati neighbors put crooks on notice
Residents respond to rash of break-ins, form watch group with help from police department
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By Heidi Bailey  May 26, 2011 10:10 am

With the economy suffering over the last few years, crimes of burglary and car break-ins seemingly are increasing, even in small towns such as Cotati. 

But one neighborhood is taking a stand and has formed a Neighborhood Watch group. Spearheaded by resident Chris Pasquin, the group is now up to nine neighbors, and they are working closely with Cotati Police Dept.’s Sgt. Chris Parker and Officer Marcos Perez to help make their neighborhood a safer place to live. Pasquin’s group lives in the Wilford area behind Walgreens, which is offset from the rest of Cotati and offers quick access to the freeway for fleeing criminals.

“I think it’s great,” said Parker of Pasquin’s efforts. “It’s always good to see a community coming together. As officers, we don’t often have the opportunity to have a positive meeting with residents. It’s so often negative, but this is good way for us to get out and meet residents. It’s just unfortunate it takes several incidents in order for people say ‘enough’ and take a stand.”

“Over the last two years in our area there has been an increase in home and car break-ins – we live in a very secluded area,” said Pasquin.

Parker agreed about the increase in crime in the Wilford area, saying, “They’ve really been hit hard there. We’ve identified one of the major players there – he’s in jail right now – and probably a second guy is going next.”

Parker said a lot of it has to do with a drug dealer in that particular area, indicating drugs bring a certain element with it.

“America seems to be going where people don’t know their neighbors, and we’ve decided to kind of roll it back to old school where you get to know people in your neighborhood,” said Pasquin. “The idea is to try to get everyone together – get phone numbers, cell numbers, watch out, communicate and support each other because with all the houses getting robbed, it’s in the numbers - it’s only a matter of time before it’s one of us.”

He cites a recent incident where two guys knocked on his door at 12:30 a.m., saying he had left his mail in the mailbox and if he opened the door, they’d give it to him.

“We’ve had someone break into a home at 2:30 in the afternoon and another break-in at 2:30 in the morning when people were home, so it doesn’t matter who or where you are, it can happen to anyone.”

He said after talking to and getting to know his neighbors, he was amazed how many don’t lock their doors or keep a dowel in the sliding glass door, often leaving it open so their dog can go in and out.

“Three years ago, you could do that. Now it’s at the point where you have to put locks on your gas cap because of high gas prices - people are pilfering gas, going through cars, trying to get whatever they can just to make a dollar.”

 Pasquin said he has no reservations walking up to unfamiliar cars and asking what they’re doing in his neighborhood. “We’ve been a hot spot for crime and if I see someone walking around or sitting in an unfamiliar car, I’ll ask them what’s going on. If you’re not there for a reason, you’ll be asked to leave.”

In working with police, he says they’ve increased patrol in the area and he often sees officers getting out of their cars, speaking to residents, and getting to know the neighbors. “They have been phenomenal in supporting us. I mean, where do you see officers getting out of their cars to get to know residents these days? They’ve just been great.”

Under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment (right to bear arms), Pasquin and a number of his neighbors decided to exercise this right and purchased guns for protection. “For me personally, I’m sleeping with a gun by my bed now, and I have neighbors sleeping with guns beside their bed now, too, so it’s getting to be really scary.”

But shooting an intruder can be a sticky situation for a homeowner and may not be as justifiable as one may think. Calif. Penal Code 198.5 states , “Unlawful, forcible entry into one’s residence by someone not a member of the household creates the presumption the resident held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury (in using) deadly force against the intruder.”

This would make a homicide justifiable under CPC 197. CALCRIM 506 (justifiable homicide) also gives the instruction, “A defendant is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand (their) ground and defend (themselves) and, if reasonably necessary, pursue an assailant until the danger has passed.”

However, it also cites, “…burglaries which do not reasonably create a fear of great bodily harm, is not a sufficient cause for exaction of human life.”

Basically, the resident must be in fear of their life or bodily harm and if that’s not the case, shooting an intruder can backfire on the resident, leading to an arrest, jail time, or as in one California case where an unarmed intruder was shot during a home invasion, the homeowner was successfully sued.

“It can go two ways really quick,” said Parker. “If they’re sleeping with a gun, it should have a gun lock or be locked up in a safe if there are children around. Everyone has the right to bear arms, but it really needs to have safety measures in place, they need to be careful…I encourage them to take a safety class and learn to use it safely.”

The key, Pasquin says, is to be proactive.  “Our next step is to put together a block barbeque, have everybody attend, get the police to come out and talk to us about how to be proactive. What we want to do is work toward making our neighborhood safer by knowing everybody. 

“The message here is know your neighbor, not just wave ‘hi,’ but know names, protect yourself, protect your house, and know we aren’t living in a safe environment anymore.”  

The Cotati Neighborhood Watch program has been getting stronger for about five years now, said Parker, with more groups forming throughout the city.

For further information about the Cotati Neighborhood Watch, call the Cotati Police Department 792-4611 or e-mail cparker@ci.cotati.ca.us.

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