Community watch is getting a better view

Jeff Cannon, of the Village of Lake Deaton, keeps an eye on the gate operations for Community Watch.

The gate attendant waving you through or the Community Watch driver patrolling your neighborhood are common sights in The Villages. But there’s a group of people behind them who keep the system running, and now they’ve got shiny new quarters.

Community Watch keeps an extra eye on the community and works with law enforcement agencies, when needed. Renovations were complete on the gate operations center and dispatch center at the Community Watch building on Bonita Boulevard earlier this month. The remodel was performed to keep pace with the growth of The Villages.

In the gate operations center, where the renovation was complete July 10, what had been six monitors for keeping an eye on all the gates is now a wall of screens, looking more like a TV control room than anything else.

“This gives us the ability to monitor an increased amount of cameras,” said Nehemiah Wolfe, division chief of The Villages Community Watch. “We’re looking on a daily basis for things like gate strikes.”

The updated facility allows for three people to work at the same time in a way that keeps appropriate distance between them.

Those on duty can watch any gate in The Villages — whether there’s an attendant present or not — to ensure that vehicles can get through and that the gates are not knocked down.

“There are a lot of activities around our gates,” Wolfe said.

Cameras are installed at several angles around the gates and can monitor license plate numbers on cars entering.

That came in handy when one resident was reported missing. A description of their car was sent to Community Watch and they were able to pinpoint which gate the resident had driven through. The resident was quickly found.

Those working in the control center keep a special eye out for gates getting knocked down. The screws that attach the gates are made from a material designed to give way, so more often than not, a Community Watch officer can easily replace the gate arm. If more damage is done, an outside vendor can be called in as necessary.

In addition to monitoring all the gates, those in the gate operations center also keep a remote eye on Eisenhower Recreation Center and its myriad pieces of military memorabilia. Also, the adult watch calls, sometimes 200 a day, are made there. Adult watch is a program that checks in on residents who need it.

The Community Watch dispatch center across the hall also was overhauled and opened for use on July 21. There are several stations for those taking calls from Villages residents. The room is dominated by a large screen showing area weather and other vital information.

Those taking calls are chosen for their ability to deal cheerfully with residents’ needs as well as computer skills that they need to record information and perform their fast-paced jobs.

Residents’ concerns can vary from the easy, “Where’s the closest Publix?” to the odd, “There’s a turtle in the road,” to the very serious. Sometimes residents will call Community Watch when they or someone else needs medical assistance. In those cases, residents are directed to call 911.

One of the busiest times comes when there’s a water main break, according to Janet Oric, the dispatch and operations supervisor. “The phone rings off the hook!” she said.

Oric stays very busy keeping an eye on the dispatchers. “I’m on my feet a lot,” she said.

As The Villages grows, it’s not likely to get any quieter in the Community Watch offices. But the remodel, Wolfe said, should allow sufficient room to watch out for Villages residents for years to come.

Senior writer Steve Straehley can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5228, or steve.straehley@thevillagesmedia.com.