If you drive into Greenhorn Creek in Angels Camp and creep slowly past the stately homes that line Smith Flat Road (as one lost reporter did on a recent Monday morning), you can bet that Allan McIlree will take notice.
The 78-year-old resident has been watching over the golf-oriented neighborhood since shortly after he and his wife, Judy, built their home there in 2007. Called to the task by a collection of concerned residents, McIlree agreed to take the lead in forming a neighborhood watch program, becoming what he refers to as “The Chief Snoop.”
Following the National Neighborhood Watch Program (NNW) guidelines created by a coalition of federal justice entities in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, McIlree coordinated with a liaison from the Angels Camp Police Department. He knocked on neighbors’ doors to obtain contact information and purchased the trademark warning signs out of his own pocket, which he then installed on lampposts throughout the community.
The retired nuclear power contract researcher who was formerly based in Palo Alto now oversees a band of “observers” who span almost the entirety of Greenhorn Creek. Each observer is charged with keeping an eye on a designated section of the neighborhood and staying in touch with those who live there.
Residents know that they can contact their local observer if they see something suspicious or call the police directly in urgent cases.
“I think the times are changing, and it’s becoming more and more important to have some kind of action plan for each neighborhood,” McIlree told the Enterprise while sitting in his home office with a wide window overlooking the street. “The attitude toward lawlessness has increased. It’s sad, but it is happening.”
Within the past year, McIlree is aware of two break-ins within the subdivision and its surrounding neighborhoods. He says he has seen criminal activity increase in his community and the wider region since moving to the area, witnessing incidents that have proven the necessity of a neighborhood watch.
One example occurred several years ago when law enforcement apprehended a man who had broken into McIlree’s neighbor’s home while he was away on a fishing trip in Seattle. McIlree was immediately able to aid investigators by calling the neighbor, who then provided an inventory of valuables over the phone to identify any stolen items.
“Just having that organization at some point is extremely important for addressing issues that arise,” McIlree said.
Beyond getting to know one’s neighbors and collecting a comprehensive list of contacts, McIlree said that a good relationship with local law enforcement is integral to maintaining a solid watch program.
“We aren’t the law keepers. We’re just the observers – the eyes and ears to report anything suspicious,” he said.
McIlree recommends that those who want to start their own watch program organize a meeting with neighbors and reach out to their local law enforcement agency to facilitate. Both the Angels Camp Police Department and the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office provide support to neighborhood watch groups.
“We have active Neighborhood Watch Programs,” Sgt. Greg Stark with the Sheriff’s Office confirmed. “We assist homeowners in hosting meetings, setting up new groups and managing existing one(s).”
Residents can also go to the official Neighborhood Watch website at nnw.org for information and resources including the signature signs.
For Greenhorn Creek resident Dr. Eldo Frezza, moving into a community that looks out for one another has made him feel “welcome and safe.”
“We sleep better at night, and we are more relaxed when we are out of town,” Frezza said.