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Revitalized Duquesne watchdog group finds new home, leadership

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 4:56 a.m.
Duquesne resident Andy Vamos thanks vice president Dan Brieck, secretary Karen Brieck and president John Burke for revitalizing the Duquesne City Crime Watch.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Duquesne resident Andy Vamos thanks vice president Dan Brieck, secretary Karen Brieck and president John Burke for revitalizing the Duquesne City Crime Watch.
Duquesne City Crime Watch treasurer Stephanie Jones asks residents Mike Chonko, Joyce Kaylor and Pat Sweet to sign an attendance sheet for Saturday's meeting.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Duquesne City Crime Watch treasurer Stephanie Jones asks residents Mike Chonko, Joyce Kaylor and Pat Sweet to sign an attendance sheet for Saturday's meeting.

Duquesne City Crime Watch is gaining momentum and support, recovering from years of dwindling membership that nearly led to its dissolution in October.

The reorganized group met Saturday afternoon at its new home, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 188 along N. Second Street in the city's downtown section. Despite falling snow and slick roads, the crime watch drew more than a dozen residents to its second meeting under new leadership.

With the VFW's manager John Burke taking the seat of crime watch president — alongside vice president Dan Brieck, secretary Karen Brieck and treasurer Stephanie Jones — the location seemed like a natural spot to try to rebuild the neighborhood organization.

“I read an article in The Daily News that the crime watch was folding,” Burke said. “We weren't going to let that happen, because a crime watch is needed in our city. The more eyes and ears we can have, the better off the citizens are.”

The group was formed by Marilyn Wisbar-Kurutz in 2003 as a neighborhood organization intended to build a sense of community responsibility.

The group of 200-250 residents met monthly in a community room at the local bank to learn to recognize, report and prevent criminal activity. Guest speakers would offer specialized sessions to highlight concerns, including home safety, drugs and violent crime.

When the bank closed, meetings moved to the Duquesne/West Mifflin Boys & Girls Club. They drew fewer participants with each month and speakers stopped attending. Members theorized that limited parking contributed to the lack of participation.

In a 2011 letter to the editor, Wisbar-Kurutz expressed disappointment in the decline in membership following her departure from the organization for medical reasons.

In October of this year, crime watch board members informed city council that the organization was dissolving.

“Very reluctantly, we want to abolish it,” then-board member Susi Davis said. “There's no attendance. It's been going down for months and months. We're hoping someone else will put new life into it.”

Burke and his friends answered that call.

“It's not really new leadership. It's a renewed interest,” he said. “We're going to revitalize this.”

Drawing attendees to the VFW with improved parking and a hot meal, Burke said he's happy to have people walk through the doors.

“I don't care if they're here to get a free piece of pizza as long as they stay to hear what we have to say,” he said.

Karen Brieck, a lifelong Duquesne resident, said she knows what to do when she witnesses suspicious behavior and wants others have that same knowledge.

“Our purpose is to tell people how they can help their neighbors,” she said. “What you might not think is important could be very important.”

While it's important for residents to keep their neighborhoods safe, Jones said, she wants the crime watch to spark a renewed sense of community involvement.

“There's a lot of good in Duquesne that needs to be recognized,” she said. “If the good comes out, it could outweigh the bad. That can cause real change.”

A city resident since 2003, Jones said she's noticed local youth need more positive role models to deter them from a life of criminal activity.

Pat Bluett, director of the local Boys & Girls Club, said the crime watch can grow to accomplish just that.

“It gives the community a vision and an opportunity to work toward the betterment of our town,” Bluett said. “We're all working for the same cause — to prevent crime in our community. It's a form of unity.”

The group will continue to meet on select Saturdays at 4 p.m. at the VFW, based on availability within the site's event calendar.

“It's a good time to meet,” Burke said. “Most working people are off on Saturdays, and daylight meetings are safer for our elderly or people who are walking to the meetings.”

On Jan. 25, the crime watch will offer a first-aid certification program.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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