Social media group cleaning up the streets of Vidor in more ways than one

Social media group cleaning up the streets of Vidor in more ways than one

A Facebook group for residents of Vidor and the surrounding area is causing quite a stir in social media circles, generating some mixed emotions with its efforts to clean up Vidor streets. Not only did the group take the initiative to remove trash and brush obscuring a local lot known as a hiding spot for passing criminals, but since its inception, the group’s members are also looking to rid the town’s streets of vagrants, trespassers and other lawbreakers through a city-wide neighborhood watch program.

Detractors say either the group is doing too much or not enough, depending on who is complaining, but the group’s leader says they are doing their best to keep area residents safe.

Robert Norton manages the Facebook page “Crime Watch in Vidor, Texas,” which describes itself as “a virtual Neighborhood Watch page that works in conjunction between the citizens and law enforcement officers of Vidor, Texas and the surrounding communities.”

Norton is a Vidor resident who works in construction. He says he started the group due to the rise in local thefts and burglaries he observed in the city over time.

“This page was created to bring the citizen and law enforcement together with a common goal; crime reduction and prevention,” Norton stated in an interview with The Examiner. “I am a member of several other Vidor groups and almost daily there were several reports of criminal activity. … I knew if I could get everyone together in one location that we could share the info with thousands at one time. I knew that with that many eyes watching out for each other, we had a much better chance of preventing and even solving some crimes.”

Norton’s “team,” as he refers to it, has faced some criticism from different groups. Recently a Facebook page emerged blasting Crime Watch in Vidor, Texas (CWIVT) for its rules, such as no “bashing” of law enforcement or of other team members on the page, no excessive profanity and no criminals. Norton performs background checks on members of the group, and he says breaking the rules gets you kicked off the page. Some former members took issue with their removal.

“Some of these rules have been broken as a result of a post that someone doesn’t agree with, they think is unnecessary or possibly about a family member or friend being reported on,” Norton explained. “Some are supporters of the criminals and only join to start trouble, and they are removed quickly. Some of these ex-members have started a bash group against ours to vent their frustrations with (what) they don’t agree with. As of today, I hear they have 23 members in that group.”

That is a very small number compared to Crime Watch’s network of more than 5,000 members. While Crime Watch began with Norton in Vidor, other groups have since joined the trend.

“The efforts of CWIVT has grown to encompass Orange County and have led to other crime watch groups in the region including Crime Watch Mauriceville, Texas; Crime Watch Orange, Texas; Crime Watch Orangefield, Texas, Crime Watch in Beaumont Texas; Crime Watch Lumberton, Texas and others that all promote crime prevention and reporting,” said Norton.

Norton expressed disappointment in comments made recently by Vidor Police Department Chief Dave Shows that were published in an Oct. 22 article in The Vidorian Shopper. In the article, Shows expressed concerns that members of the CWIVT group were not reporting crimes to police, but rather only posting them on Facebook, and that some criminals might actually be scoping out the page to look for targets, for example someone posting a comment about leaving town for a week. That post, Shows warned in an interview with The Examiner, could inadvertently alert criminals that the poster’s home is empty and make it mark for potential burglars.

Shows was a member of the group for a short time but left once he saw negative comments pertaining to law enforcement on the page.

“It is a bit difficult to judge a group based on the first three days of operation while we were determining our pathway as a team,” Norton said of Shows’ comments in The Vidorian Shopper. “He had a few concerns that were valid, but no longer an issue on the page. I think that the efforts put in to rehashing old, solved issues could have been better used to promote crime prevention in the city.”

Shows, who has been with VPD for 35 years, said he felt his comments in the Oct. 22 article had been unfairly judged. He said he believes the purpose of the group is commendable and was just warning people of potential issues, making sure the community knows to call the police when they encounter suspicious persons or circumstances.

“The sharing and spreading of information is a good thing,” Shows told The Examiner. “I think it’s a great idea. … It does have some problems.”

Shows said he knows Norton has taken steps to correct some of the problems, for example initiating the background check on team members in order to prevent criminals from accessing the page. Shows said he also had concerns that some people on the page were promoting their own brand of justice, recommending “just shooting people,” he said, and addressed the concern with Norton at Vidor’s last Town Hall meeting.

Norton himself has made numerous remarks on CWIVT letting members know that type of behavior is discouraged. In those posts, he encourages members to keep an eye out and to “stay vigilant,” but not vigilante.

“I do not support vigilantes in any way,” asserted Norton. “We report crime to law enforcement and if warranted, to the group as well. We report suspicious circumstances in our neighborhood to the group as something to keep an eye on. We do not take the law into our own hands. We notify law enforcement to handle criminals.”

He says any team members who do not adhere to his rules or who take matters into their own hands rather than calling police would be removed from the group immediately. Norton and other team members recently cleaned up a vacant lot adjacent to 585 N. Main St. in Vidor from Oct. 19-21. The vacant lot was a hangout for vagrants and trespassers, police confirmed, and Norton and his crew got permission from the owner of the lot to clean up all the brush and debris creating a perfect hiding spot for criminals. Norton said the idea to clean up the lot came from a member of CWIVT.

“When the overgrowth was looked at, it was an apparent hiding and drug using spot for local drug users as evidenced by the needles, bongs, and meth pipes that were scattered everywhere in there,” Norton said. “I thought that removing the overgrowth was a great idea to eliminate that type of area in the city. … The team members donated chainsaws, labor, equipment, and roll off disposal boxes over a two-day time frame and completely removed everything. The drug paraphernalia that was found, including needles and meth smoking pipes, were disposed of by a member of law enforcement for safety reasons.”

Norton said he believes his group is making a difference in the city, a positive change.

“I know for a fact that the city is safer because of our efforts,” he asserted. “If you read the hundreds of posts on the page from the team members, you will see how the group has been impacted by our efforts over the last two months. Just today (Oct. 24) on my morning post, I covered 20 of the improvements we have accomplished that made the citizens safer.”

Among those accomplishments were making the city streets brighter by requesting and receiving improved lighting on the roads and on people’s property, and replacing a little girl’s birthday present after her bicycle was stolen. The list goes on and on, and Norton says that is a fraction of what the group has done and plans to accomplish in the future.