Neighborhood Watch 2.0: Neighbors Twitter, Blog To Keep Criminals At Bay

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Cruise down the tree-lined streets of the Old Oaks neighborhood on a summer evening and know this: Someone is watching you.

It might be Richard Vickers, who records your license plate number in a notebook as he retrieves gun shell casings from the sidewalk while out on his nightly walk. Or it might be Doug Motz, who alerts via text message: "Watch out for the green van lurking in the alley."

Like the members of this well-oiled block watch group in central Ohio, neighbors across the country are using Twitter, blogs, e-mail and street patrols to help thwart crime. While some groups form after break-ins or muggings, there are signs of increased interest as law enforcement agencies are strained by layoffs and furloughs amid ballooning budget deficits.

"This is our neighborhood," says Vickers, a lawyer who moonlights as block watch captain. "Why should we allow people to force us out of here?"

More than 20,000 block watch groups are registered on the National Sheriffs' Association Web site, compared to about 5,000 just four years ago, said Chris Tutko, the association's director of neighborhood watch programs.

"There's a big push on to learn how to do it and how to get people involved," says Tutko, who trains law enforcers in running watch groups.

In most cities, wannabe block watch members must be trained by police in how to identify and respond to criminal behavior. The first step seems almost quaint: Talk to your neighbors, police say.

After a string of kidnappings and home invasions in Atlanta last year, indignant residents founded Safe Atlanta For Everyone, which coordinates a watch network on the city's east side. Their efforts took on new urgency when the financially strapped city ordered furloughs from December to July, forcing police and other municipal workers to take eight more hours off every week.

Block watch members tweet a constant stream of crime alerts to a privacy-protected Twitter address. One of the group's founders, Donna Williamson, sets out on foot during her lunch break with a cell phone and camera in search of what she calls "Twitter-worthy" behavior.

One tweet, posted by a resident last August: "black male dark glasses blue cap baggy jeans yellow/black umbrella 'wrong address.' Now in neighor's yard."

Jittery inhabitants of Windmill Ranches, an upscale gated community in Weston, Fla., started a block watch last year after strangers tried to slip past a security guard and follow them inside, says Broward County Sheriff's Deputy David Schupp.

Vigilance wasn't enough for residents of Kirkwood, a middle-class Atlanta neighborhood. Two years ago they pooled their money to form the Kirkwood Security Patrol and hire an off-duty police officer to roam the streets in an unmarked car.

"If there's been an area where there's been a lot of car break-ins, he'll go and do a stakeout to see if he can catch anybody," resident Emily Gest says.

Carrie Davis, staff council for the American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio, says block watch members who aren't trained by police should be cautious of overstepping legal boundaries.

"You have a right to observe what's going on in the street, but that doesn't give you a right to go peer in your neighbor's window," Davis says.

In rare cases, neighborly advances can end in violence. Near Salt Lake City, a neighbor was shot and paralyzed while driving around looking for thieves on July 22 after several car break-ins in rural Bluffdale, Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Don Hutson said.

Twenty new block watch groups have sprouted since January in Columbus, where police Chief Walter Distelzweig had warned that as many as 300 officers could be laid off if a proposed citywide income tax increase failed. The levy passed Aug. 4.

Anticipating a greater need for community involvement because of budget cuts, the Florida Crime Prevention Association says it has stepped up block watch training for law enforcement agencies to go out and train the public.

It's unclear whether block watch groups make residents safer, but research shows more cohesive neighborhoods are linked to lower crime, says Robert Sampson, a Harvard University sociology professor.

"I think the real question is what kind of community does one want to live in," he says.

Four years ago, when the Old Oaks block watch was in its infancy, the crack of gunshots could be heard frequently in the neighborhood of brick homes with front porches on the outskirts of a crime-ridden part of Columbus. Now the streets are quieter, and crime mostly amounts to break-ins.

Residents gather weekly for what's called Wednesdays on the Porch, when they drink beer and trade the latest crime rumors. Block watch members also communicate almost daily via a Yahoo! group, e-mail listserv and telephone chain.

"Suppose you hear a gunshot somewhere in the neighborhood but you don't know where it came from," Latricia Sparks said. "I might call Dick: 'Did you hear that?' And we all – at the same time – we call the police. Because the more police calls, the faster the response."


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Shelly Palmer: ABC’s Millionaire Revival Stumbles: MediaBytes with Shelly Palmer August 11, 2009

Despite ABC being optimistic that the new version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire would be a success, the debut of the revival finished fourth place in its opening Sunday night slot. The program, which, for the first time in years, is hosted by original host Regis Philbin and aires in primetime, could not garner the audience the show did when it first began. ABC revived Millionaire exclusively for the month of August in order to bolster Summer ratings.

The Apple Blog is reporting that a new version of iTunes will be able to handle Blu-Ray DVD's. The move may signal that Apple will begin packaging new computers with Blu-Ray players. Rumors are rampant, and comes as more electronics companies are beginning to format for Blu-ray.

" target="_blank" onClick="javascript:urchinTracker('/outgoing/2009-08-11/_nbc');">NBC has decided to premiere its new show Community on Facebook. The preview of the new pilot, which stars Joel McHale, will be on the social network, rather than or The move gives Facebook a much needed push in becoming a premiere web TV destination.

Facebook acquired social aggregator FriendFeed yesterday. The deal, whose financial terms were not disclosed, will make FriendFeed's twelve employees part of the Facebook team, as they prepare to integrate new aggregating technologies into the social network. CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that "Since I first tried FriendFeed, I've admired their team for creating such a simple and elegant service for people to share information."

The Dish Network fell 81% during the second quarter. The company notes that its lose stemmed from its lawsuit with TiVo and increased expenses. While the second largest satellite provider only managed to earn $63.4 million, compared to $335.9 million it made last year, it did increase subscribers.

Shelly Palmer is a consultant and the host of MediaBytes with Shelly Palmer a daily show featuring news you can use about technology, media & entertainment. He is Managing Director of Advanced Media Ventures Group LLC and the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV. Shelly is also President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. You can join the MediaBytes mailing list here. Shelly can be reached at For information about Get Digital Classes, visit

Mazen Abdul-Jawad’s Live Sex Talk Prompts Saudis To Close TV Station’s Bureaus

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Authorities in Saudi Arabia have shut down all local operations of a Lebanese TV station that broadcast an interview with a Saudi man who spoke frankly about sex, a government official said Tuesday.

Abdul-Rahman al-Hazza, the spokesman of the Ministry of Culture and Information, told The Associated Press that a second office of the Lebanese-based LBC satellite station, in Riyadh, was closed Monday because of the July 15 program. LBC's other Saudi bureau, in the western city of Jiddah, was shut on Saturday.

"This is a clear measure against any media outlet that harms the kingdom's reputation," al-Hazza said.

Officials at LBC, which has maintained a no-comment policy on the issue, were not reachable Tuesday.

The Saudi man, Mazen Abdul-Jawad, was detained July 31 for questioning. His interview shocked many in this conservative country where such frank talk is rarely heard in public.

Abdul-Jawad, a 32-year-old Saudi Airlines employee, has begged for forgiveness from Saudi society for appearing on LBC's "Bold Red Line" program.

The television segment begins with Abdul-Jawad apparently talking about the first time he had sex – at age 14 with a neighbor. Then the divorced father of four sons leads viewers into his bedroom where he says: "Everything happens in this room."

Saudi Arabia, which is the birthplace of Islam, enforces strict segregation of the sexes. An unrelated couple, for example, can be detained for being alone in the same car or having a cup of coffee in public. Saudis observe such segregation even at home, where they have separate living rooms for male and female guests.

Sulaiman al-Jumeii, Abdul-Jawad's lawyer, has insisted the interview was manipulated, his client was not aware in many instances that he was being recorded and the sex toys were provided by the LBC staff.

More than 200 people have filed legal complaints against Mazen Abdul-Jawad, dubbed a "sex braggart" by the media, and many Saudis say he should be severely punished.

The closure of LBC's Saudi bureaus was indefinite.

In a column in Okaz newspaper, al-Hazza said the kingdom will deal firmly with anything that harms religion, the nation and the citizen.

"Those who do not know Saudi Arabia should be aware that its policies are based on an uncompromising attitude over issues related to religion, values, morals and the nation," he wrote.

An editorial in the Saudi Gazette on Tuesday said the "crux of the issue rests on the bad judgment of both Mazen Abdul-Jawad, the so-called Casanova, and the producers of 'Bold Red Line.'"

"All involved should have been able to predict the uproar such a program would bring in Saudi Arabia," said the editorial.

It said that because "Bold Red Line" was produced and aired by an Arab-owned TV station and focused on the exploits of a Saudi man, it "hit home far more powerfully than anything like" Western-produced programs do.

Saudi columnist Turki al-Dakheel disagrees with the measures taken against LBC although he was "disgusted by what I saw and heard."

"The closing of the channel's office, however, is not something that will solve the problem," he wrote in Al-Watan. The column was reproduced in English by Arab News on Tuesday.

"The anger shown by many citizens was deterrent enough to TV channels not to make similar mistakes," he added. "People have clearly expressed their attitude toward the program. Why then do we close the office of a TV channel?"

Olbermann Slams Palin For “Death Panel” Claim, Calls Her Dangerously Irresponsible (VIDEO)

Keith Olbermann went off on Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the birthers in a nearly 15-minute "Special Comment" Monday night. The MSNBC host was particularly incensed by Palin's recent, totally unsupported, claim that Obama's health care plan would result in a "death panel."

"There is no 'death panel.' There is no judgment based on societal productivity. There is no worthiness test. But there is downright evil, and Ms. Palin, you just served its cause," Olbermann said, before going on to call Palin a "clear and present danger to the safety and security of this nation."

Dean Baker: Governor Palin’s Crazed Health Care Rant: Blame the Washington Post

As a basic rule, politicians will say anything they can get away with. If an effective politician thinks that he can call his opponent a drug-dealing, serial-murdering gangster, and have the charge taken seriously by the media, then he will do it, even if there is no reality whatsoever to the allegation. The reason that most politicians don't describe their opponents this way is because the media will denounce them as liars, who are unfit for responsible public office.

This basic truth must be kept in mind in understanding the health care debate. The debate has trailed off into loon tune land, and it's the media's fault.

The lunacy was most clearly in evidence in former Gov. Sarah Palin's claim that President Obama's plan would force her to stand in front of a "death panel" to argue for the life of her baby with Down Syndrome. This "death panel" is a complete invention by Governor Palin. There is no twist or turn or contorted permutation of President Obama's plan that would prevent Ms. Palin from providing as much health care as she wants to her baby.

It would have made as much sense to claim that the transportation bill will deny medical care to her baby. After all, if the roads in front of her home are not properly maintained, and her baby has a medical emergency, then the transportation bill would have effectively sentenced her baby to death because she won't be able to get medical attention in a timely manner.

The reason that Governor Palin thought she could make up stories about President Obama's death panels is that the media have treated all sorts of other absurd inventions about his health care plan with respect. At the most basic level, opponents have repeatedly said that President Obama's plan will lead to rationing of health care.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing in President Obama's plan that resembles rationing. He certainly intends to limit the type of medical procedures that the government would fund, but opponents of the plan don't want the government to fund any procedures. So, how is restricting the procedures funded through a government plan rationing? Anyone who wants to is entirely free to buy as much health care as they want outside of the government-subsidized plan. Where is the rationing?

Using Governor Palin's story, there may be mothers who are less wealthy than her who will be able to care for a baby with Down Syndrome or other serious affliction as a result of President Obama's plan. These mothers might not otherwise have this option because they could not afford the health care. It is easy to see how President Obama's plan can lead to life compared with the current situation. It's virtually impossible to see how it leads to death.

The media have allowed the politicians to turn life into death and night into day when it comes to the health care debate because they decided that anything said against President Obama's plan should be treated with respect, no matter how absurd it might be.

The line about rationing isn't the only place where the media have fallen down on the job in the health care debate. Instead of telling us that the cost of the plan was "huge," as the have often done, the media could have put the cost in a context that would make it understandable to people who are not policy wonks. They could have told us that the projected $1 trillion cost over the next decade is equal to about 0.5 percent of GDP, less than half of the cost of Iraq-Afghanistan wars at their peak.

The $250 billion ten-year shortfall that Congress is struggling to fill is a bit more than 0.1 percent of GDP, rounding error in the total budget. But the media only assured the public that this gap was a big hole in the budget; they didn't try to tell us how big.

The media have the job of informing the public. They have the time and the resources to know that when opponents of President Obama's plan talk about rationing, they are not telling the truth (i.e. they are lying). If the media just pass these assertions on to the public without comment, then they are giving them credibility.

And if the opponents of health reform think they can get away with one really big lie, then why shouldn't they start moving forward with even bigger ones. It was only a matter of time before someone came up with Governor Palin's death panel line. For this we owe our thanks to The Washington Post and the rest of the mainstream media.

Barry Diller “Still Hasn’t Figured Out How To Squeeze Riches For Shareholders From His Vision”: LAT

But as the typically tepid results turned in recently by his IAC/InterActiveCorp demonstrate, he still hasn't figured out how to squeeze riches for shareholders from his vision.

The company earned $41 million, or 28 cents a share, for the quarter that ended June 30. That was an improvement over its $422-million loss a year earlier. But excluding one-time items such as asset sales, the earnings worked out to just 7 cents a share, slightly less than the 9 cents a share analysts expected.

Murray Fromson: Our Sick Society

Time is running out before we're robbed of our sanity. Long ago in World War II, there used to be a patriotic poster that hung on many walls. It read, "loose lips sink ships." Today, our ship of state is in mighty danger of being sunk because of the reckless violation of one of our treasured liberties: freedom of speech. Reckless free speech. It pains me to say this because I'm a First Amendment fanatic with a strong belief in free speech, no matter how reckless it is sometimes. But we should remember that freedom is not absolute anymore than it is allowable to yell fire in a crowded theater.

What can be said of the public when the loud mouths of Fox News enjoy some of the highest ratings of any cable television programs in the country? Fortunately, we can thank Jon Stewart for keeping us awake most evenings by poking fun at O'Reilly and Beck who are the Abbott and Costello on a ship of fools. Rush Limbaugh, talk radio's schlockmeister, also gets a few seconds of attention from Stewart, but fortunately not much.

It is no wonder that Rupert Murdoch, who claims to have voted for Barack Obama last November, hasn't checked his commentators even mildly. He and Roger Ailes hide behind the myth of presenting news that is "fair and balanced." But as long as the ratings and ad revenues remain high, O'Reilly and friends no doubt will stay right where they are. It is when Limbaugh, the corpulent commentator, goes on the radio airwaves to liken the president's tactics to those of Adolph Hitler, and Beck, a former CNN polluter and more recent inductee in Fox News, claims that our president hates white people, you know it is time to put the brakes on their charade. This is not a call for censorship, but a demand for accuracy. These guys need to be policed by tough-minded editors or the kind of executives who used to be in charge of program practices on the television networks.

The talking heads paid by Murdoch and other cable operators are not as serious as they 0are dangerous. Their language is inflammatory, and they arouse the worst instincts in human beings. They raise the emotional temperature when the level of America's anger, frustration and even desperation has never been higher in recent memory. The number of Americans faced with losing their homes or jobs is alarming. Some people are genuinely skeptical of the Administration's health plan, if only because they do not understand it, and President Obama has yet to spell it out clearly. But to ignore the rate of spiraling health costs that could bankrupt the country is just plain foolish.

Here's where the cynical tactics of Republican leaders in Congress come in. They're not interested in any kind of health care reform. To them, this issue is part of a strategy that is no strategy at all. It is gutter politics by a party that seems to have lost its way and its dignity. How else can Newt Gingrich truly endorse the absurdities of Sarah Palin and the attempt to use her Down Syndrome child as a prop to attack the President?

The most vocal opponents of health care reform have been recruited, either by the GOP or the health insurance industry, to disrupt town meetings.and instead of appearing to be concerned citizens, they're acting like nothing less than thugs. They've been brainwashed into thinking that what they have is good enough without realizing that the employer-paid benefits they have or had are going away, never to return. The unions that ensured their continuation or the institutions that did so before ( because it made good corporate sense) may not be able to sustain them in the future. But the nasty tone of the opposition can be traced significantly to the Fox commentators and Republican congressmen like John Boehner of Ohio, whose appearance on television suggests that he is suffering from gallstones or permanent cramps.

The number and tone of irrational and hysterical letters to the New York Times is frightening. The failure of the Republican Party to control rather than exacerbate extremism is depressing. Its mantra for the past half century or more is that government and taxes are the evil enemies of the middle class, when in fact the government is us. We elect its participants in the House of Representatives and Senate all the time. We vote for state legislatures and city council routinely. They add up to what we know is representative government. It is no amorphous "thing" lurking out in the woods ready to devour us. As for taxes, we have been against them since the days of the Boston Tea Party. Everyone has to pay them, but every politician acts as if they are poison that must be purged from our system vigorously. California voters are still suffering from the foolishness that was deposited on us by Proposition 13.

With the exception of the nation's major newspapers, the mainstream press in general does little to inform its reader of the realities of life. What's worse is the absence of civic responsibility in local broadcast journalism. It is appalling to be exposed to a drum-beating video version of the police blotter every weekday evening. The silence of the political and business elite also is bewildering. Moreover, there is the failure of American institutions to warn citizens everywhere of just how much danger ignorant, ideological and ill-informed rabble-rousers pose to our nation. Need we be reminded of the consequences caused by these reckless critics? They are frightening because their appeal is to the lowest common denominator.

We need to applaud, not disparage, the most intelligent leader in the White House we've had in years. He is doing his best to lift the country out of the economic mess he inherited. Abroad, he is restoring America's image that was tarnished by the Bush Administration. To demean Barack Obama with the language his critics have employed is to demean us all.