Patrols adopting military discipline have helped to deter burglars: Estate reaps vigilance reward

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NO BURGLARIES have been reported on an estate in the village of Cottenham, in the Cambridge commuter belt, since the introduction of a Neighbourhood Watch scheme enforced with military discipline, writes

Danny Penman.

Crime has been all but eliminated from the Dunstal Field estate by the introduction of two- man security patrols, with torches and whistles. Vehicle movements in the estate are monitored, and elderly residents are given secret passwords to identify patrol members. 'No entry' signs have been erected at the entrance to the estate and residents have been issued with a 10-page security booklet.

In the weeks before the watch was introduced the estate had suffered 12 burglaries. Philip Howells, the scheme's co-ordinator, said: 'We are a respectable middle-class group of people who are fed up with what is going on. We are not a vigilante group, but we are vigilant. We just felt that that if we couldn't walk safely in our own cul-de-sac then it was a pretty poor state of affairs.'

The scheme dovetails with Cambridgeshire Constabulary's policy of re-establishing links with the community to beat rural crime. Residents inform a Neighbourhood Watch security committee of their movements so extra attention can be paid to their houses if they are away. To stop such information reaching the ears of outsiders, each house also has a secret security code identifiable only to members of the committee.

Mr Howells said: 'Policing was less than successful, we hardly ever saw a copper. We just went back to basic principles - people in the community just have to help themselves.'

After initial trepidation, the Cambridgeshire force responded to the scheme with vigour - even drafting in more special constables after requests from residents. Chief Inspector Terry Turner of the Cambridgeshire Rural Police said: 'They are one of the best-organised Neighbourhood Watch schemes I have seen. They have produced a much better situation in Cottenham. I am delighted there have been no burglaries since they have been looking after their property.'

Despite the lethargy that has crept into many Neighbourhood Watch schemes, Mr Howells is optimistic that the Dunstal Field initiative will continue for as long as there is a need.