Neighborhood watch members gather for block captains meeting with Tustin PD


Tustin residents filled nearly all 200 seats during the bi-annual meeting of Neighborhood Watch Block captains at the city’s community center, an event that brings residents together to discuss community issues and learn about resources.

In the 12 years since 44 residents attended the inaugural meeting of block captains, the events have grown steadily along with the increases in neighborhood watch programs. The get-togethers have gone from annual to twice per year and fill up the Clifton C. Miller Community Center’s main meeting space. The city currently has 140 communities signed up for Neighborhood Watch. At Thursday’s meeting, eight new groups were welcomed into the fold.

Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano talks to a full house as he and other members of the police team attend the Tustin PD Neighborhood Watch Block Captain meeting at the Tustin Community Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Tyron Jackson, a community activist whose Tustin Parc apartment complex just joined Neighborhood Watch, was attending for the first time and was excited by the turnout.

“The cool thing is when you see the community here,” he said. “We’re not yelling at each other. We’re communicating and we’re working together and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Jackson said he and his neighbors formed their group just two months ago and are already seeing positive results both as a community and in interactions with the police.

Judy Zinman, another newcomer from the Park Tustin neighborhood, said she hadn’t known what to expect at the meeting.

“It’s nice to see there are this many people interested,” she said.

Tustin Police Chief Charles Celano welcomes Neighborhood Watch members as he gives a community update.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Residents were briefed on the Canyon 2 Fire and the response by the Orange County Fire Association.

Joe Meyers, coordinator of Tustin’s Emergency Management team, said the city was spared from damage except for vegetation in Peters Canyon Regional Park on the city’s northeastern border and parts of Cowan Heights.

According to Meyers, when the fire first erupted the Tustin Police Watch Commander assigned one of the patrol officers to serve as a scout and put “early eyes” on the fire and its path.  That decision proved to be very helpful, with the city providing assistance to firefighters setting evacuation routes and enacting wildfire plans.

Tustin PD Lt. Manny Arzate talks to residents during the Tustin PD Neighborhood Watch Block Captain meeting at the Tustin Community Center.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Andy Kovacs, chief of Orange County Fire Association’s Division 4, which consists of Tustin, Placentia, Villa Park, and Yorba Linda, said the fire, which started at 9:40 a.m. October 9, was a classic wind-driven storm. According to Kovacs, the fire was ignited by wind-blown embers..

And while 9,200 acres were scorched and 80 structures either damaged or destroyed, Tustin suffered no structural losses.

Kovacs said although parts of Peters Canyon resembled a “moonscape” in the aftermath of the fire, Tustin was saved from further damage by “two timely drops (of Phos-Chek fire retardant) at the height of the fire,” and the cessation of winds.

According to Kovacs, 247,000 gallons of fire retardant and 522,000 gallons of water were dropped on the blaze.

Kovacs also provided information on programs residents can use, such as Ready, Set, Go, to be better prepared for disasters.

Residents attend the Tustin PD Neighborhood Watch Block Captain network meeting.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

In addition to the fire presentation, Police Chief Charles Celano and the two area commanders Lieutenants Brian Greene and Manuel Arzate provided an overview on crime in the city in what the chief called a “good news, bad news” report.

The bad news was another uptick in more serious, or Part 1, violent and property crimes in 2017, which Celano said rose 6 percent.

The good news is that by “clamping down on serial criminals, this year we are down 19 percent in Part 1 crimes,” Celano said.

Arzate, who serves as the North Area Commander, which covers the upper part of Tustin north of Interstate 5, credited some of the success to effective use of advanced crime analysis to target problem areas.

“We’re a data-driven department,” he said.

Joe Meyers of Tustin PD talks about the recent canyon fires during the Tustin PD Neighborhood Watch Block Captain meeting.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Greene, who oversees the south area of the city, spoke about the department’s recently reconfigured Gang Reduction and Directed Enforcement unit, or GRADE Unit. The GRADE Unit brought together two department units, the Gang Unit and the Special Enforcement Detail, and combined them into the GRADE Unit.

The GRADE Unit will bring seven day a week coverage and those assigned to GRADE will be not be responsible for handling standard patrol radio calls, but instead will be expected to address identified crime trends and significant ongoing issues throughout the city. The GRADE Unit’s early results have been very successful and the department believes the formation of this unit will lead to further reductions in criminal activity and an overall improvement in quality of life for Tustin residents.

In addition to presentations about local issues such as firefighting and prevention, the meetings also provide information on upcoming events and available education and training programs, such as the Community Emergency Response Team. Following the meeting, residents chatted with police leaders about community issues.