Taylorsville Public Safety Committee hopes to grow the city’s neighborhood watch program in 2022Feb 07, 2022 03:24PM ● By Carl Fauver
Several Taylorsville elected officials and other community dignitaries recently underwent a night of police emergency response training, where they learned up close and personal about the split-second decisions officers make. (Courtesy Lynette Wendel)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
It was a harrowing morning for 12-year-old Taylorsville resident Lucas Mann last fall when he spotted a man hiding in a window well at his family’s home on Quailbrook Circle (near 4800 South 2100 West). Many saw the extensive news coverage of the incident. The suspect was accused of firing a gun at police moments before Lucas spotted him. Shortly after fleeing the window well – where it appeared he was trying to break into the home – the suspect shot and killed himself.
While, thankfully, sensational crime cases like this are few in Taylorsville, the city’s Public Safety Committee has decided 2022 is the year they want to redouble their efforts to assist residents in being more safe and secure.
“We are focused this year on building back up our (citizen) neighborhood watch program in Taylorsville,” said Public Safety Committee Chairman Tony Henderson. “The city has a goal this year to address crime more proactively by engaging with residents about crime prevention. Right now, only a handful of active neighborhood watch groups are being effective. In 2022, we want to help the city grow that number.”
An eighth-grade math teacher at West Hills Middle School, Henderson has served on the Taylorsville Public Safety Committee, literally, since “day one.” He was a founding member of the committee back in 1996, before the city was officially incorporated. This is his third stint as committee chairman.
Unlike, say, the Cultural Diversity Committee or the Historic Preservation Committee, the Taylorsville Public Safety Committee does not have citizens banging down the door to join them. Some might say the quiet, workhorse committee doesn’t have a lot of “pizzazz.” But that seems to suit the soft-spoken Henderson just fine.
“We have about six active committee members,” Henderson added. “We meet at city hall on the first Thursday of each month. People are welcome to join us. We’ve decided to refocus on the neighborhood watch program this year, to help people become more active in protecting their homes.”
Taylorsville City Police Chief Brady Cottam supports the goal, provided citizens keep in mind they should never take the law into their own hands.
“The neighborhood watch program should be a strong goal for the Public Safety Committee, because that is where the rubber meets the road,” Chief Cottam said. “The city police department benefits from the program. The more eyes and ears there are watching for criminal activity, the better. Of course, we don’t want citizens approaching or engaging suspects. But if they notify us of suspicious activity, that is a big help.”
When the weather warms in a couple of months, Henderson’s committee plans to reach out to neighborhood groups one-on-one.
“We plan to organize several outdoor meetings in different neighborhoods this spring, to talk with people about what is involved in organizing neighborhood watch groups,” Henderson explained. “We can provide them with some training. I would guess, right now, there are only three to six active neighborhood watch groups in Taylorsville. I’m not sure how many members each group has.”
Henderson says there’s a pretty consistent pattern for the birth and death of neighborhood watch programs. First, incidents occur in a neighborhood, riling residents up to become active. After they do, crime decreases or arrests are made. Once things “quiet down,” neighborhood watch groups quite often disappear.
“These meetings (this spring) are really an exploration, to determine whether we can help create and maintain more neighborhood watch groups over a longer period of time,” he added.
While growing the neighborhood watch program is their primary goal for 2022, the Public Safety Committee closed out 2021 with one of its most interesting and intense activities ever. For the committee’s early December meeting, they invited several Taylorsville elected officials to join them on a field trip.
“We took a field trip to a site in Murray, operated by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, that provides intense, immersive police training,” Henderson said. “About a dozen of us went. The training shows scenarios of armed criminals. When you step into the training area, you are surrounded by life-size videos showing dangerous suspects and situations. As trainees, we are supposed to try to de-escalate the situation. If we can’t, we have laser guns to ‘shoot’ the suspects.”
The creator of the training, called “VirTra,” is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona.
“VirTra helps prepare law enforcement officers for real-life incidents through state-of-the-art simulators and surreal scenarios,” the company explains on its website (virtra.com). “Upon stepping into the simulator, officers are immersed in de-escalation, judgmental use of force and other scenarios that build skills which translate to the field. VirTra’s mission is to save and improve lives worldwide, through realistic and highly-effective virtual reality and simulator technology.”
Cottam, who attended the field trip, describes VirTra as “a video game on steroids.”
“I am a police training instructor, so I have seen VirTra training hundreds of times,” Cottam explained. “It is good training. I believe most of my officers have had it. I plan to put all of them through it again this year or next. I have to admit, I was chuckling a bit as we took (civilians) into the training. I told everyone at the start of the class, ‘you will not be able to sleep tonight.’ The word traumatic comes to mind.”
“I had a (VirTra training simulator) scenario where I was going into a dark movie theater after a gunman and it was really intense,” Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson said. “It was valuable to me, to learn what our police officers face when making split-second decisions. Wow, it was very scary.”
“It’s amazing training; (in my simulator scenario) I had someone six feet away from me with a knife,” City Councilwoman Anna Barbieri added. “What is shocking is how quickly things can escalate. I gained an appreciation for what remarkable police officers we have.”
Barbieri wasn’t quite as “green” as several of the other citizen trainees. A few years ago she and Public Safety Committee member Lynette Wendel went through a 12-week citizen police academy together where they were exposed to this type of training. Wendel was also there this time around.
“It’s not fun and games; it’s shock and awe,” Wendel said. “You can’t really feel empathy for someone until you have walked in their shoes. The simulator gave us a taste of the challenges our police officers face. It was intense.”
“I love for our civilian society to do this training because they learn how difficult split-second decisions can be,” Cottam concluded. “I don’t want to be overly-dramatic. Our officers don’t face these situations every day. But they always have to be ready to make extremely difficult decisions.”
Henderson described the night as “probably the most interesting and intense field trip our committee has ever participated in.”
The next Taylorsville Public Safety Committee meeting will be Thursday night, Feb. 3, at city hall. Anyone interested in learning more, or joining the committee, should contact Chairman Tony Henderson at [email protected] or 801-898-7201.