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Rural community helps sheriff prevent crime
The Eyes Have It

Burglars targeting Wise County, Texas, might want to think twice. Residents have their eyes on suspicious activity in town, and the county makes it easy for residents to report what they see, according to Sheriff David Walker.

Wise County residents can join the Wise Eyes Program, an e-mail-based alert and information database originated in 1993.

Getting the word out
The county distributes burglary reports, fire danger alerts, local credit card abuse scams and sex offender registration notifications through the Wise Eyes program. Residents sign up to receive reports via e-mail and can aid law enforcement officials by looking out for people, vehicles or activity included in the reports.

Residents can report suspicious activity on the Wise County Web site, www.sheriff.co.wise.tx.us, or by phone. The county also provides incident report forms for residents--Wise Eyes members or not--to carry with them.

More than 2,000 Wise County residents are members of the program, started by former sheriff Phil Ryan, who was trying to find a way to involve citizens more with law enforcement, Walker said. E-mail was new to the sheriff's office in 1993, and Ryan saw it as a way to get information to residents countywide quickly.

"The program is excellent," Walker said. "I was here when it began, and I believe in it. I didn't at the beginning. But now if someone doesn't get an e-mail through Wise Eyes for a few days, they're calling us to make sure they're still on the list."

Walker said residents understand their role in Wise Eyes--information.

"Most of the citizens are very mindful of their safety," he said. "We have not had an incident where someone tries to take matters into their hands and actually apprehend anyone."

In one case, a local energy-company employee noticed several four-wheeled all-terrain vehicles in a pasture. The county had alerted the public through Wise Eyes that four-wheelers are prime targets for theft during deer season, so the employee notified the authorities, Walker said.

"Officers gained access to the land and contacted the landowner and recovered the stolen four-wheelers," Walker said.

Wise Eyes members have helped bust drug labs, daytime burglary rings and even drunk drivers, according to Walker.

"If grandma next door knows we're looking for a white pickup with a particular marking on it, the [crooks] may know to look for patrol units, but may not know to look out for grandma," he said.

Sharing a good thing
Devon Energy was a natural fit for Wise Eyes from the start, according to Margaret Hitchcock, a Devon spokesperson. Oil and gas employees travel extensively through the Wise County area.

"Devon volunteered to have their employees be the first to be trained," Hitchcock said.

Training consists of teaching what to look for when filing a report, such as license plate numbers and markings on automobiles, not just the model and color, as well as spotting out of place or suspicious activities.

Devon now spearheads Wise Eyes training operations in other areas, Hitchcock said, including 12 operations in Texas and seven in other states. Campbell County, Wyoming, began its program in 2004 to help out in the 5,000-square-mile, largely rural county, according to Sheriff Bill Pownall.

"It helps us a great deal in [rural] parts of the county," he said. "With all the energy folks out in the county that travel the same routes, it gives us an extra set of eyes in places where deputies don't drive."

Those extra eyes save Wise County time and money, Walker said, and give residents an opportunity to be involved.

"The eyes of the citizens can equate to three or four deputies at times," he said. "Folks like it because they're involved and feel they can get a hold of the sheriff easily.... They like that."

Clint Shields