VAN ZANDT COUNTY (KYTX) - In a county that's about 70 percent the size of Rhode Island, it's a challenge for Van Zandt County's team of sheriff's deputies to keep an eye on every community.
That's why the commissioner's court just approved a new program to cut down on crime.
Sheriff Michael Lindsey Ray says it's no secret; Van Zandt County has a crime problem, and he's out to cut that down. About 91 percent of the crimes in the county are property crimes, meaning burglary or theft. He also says in the last 5 years, about 85 percent of those have gone unsolved. That's why he's asking for the community's help.
Right now, there are a few crime watch programs in Van Zandt County but Sheriff Ray wants more.
"We think we can do better, but in order to do better we've got to have the help of the community," Sheriff Ray said.
The county's new precinct watch program will activate community watch programs all over the county - 19 in each of it's four precincts.
"What we've done is further divide these precincts into sectors," Sheriff Ray said.
Each of those 76 sectors will have an organized chain of command filled with volunteers. The idea is for people in the community to notify someone on that neighborhood watch of anything suspicious like an unfamiliar car in the neighborhood, or suspicious activity, so they can tell the sheriff's office.
With about 55,000 people across VZ County, Sheriff Ray says the key to communication and cutting down on crime, is technology.
"We know kids today are born with cell phones in their hands and that network of communication that we've seen in Boston is so vital to effective law enforcement. If I have 2 deputies working, instead of four eyes looking for a stolen vehicle, I can have 20,000 eyes looking for that same stolen vehicle," Sheriff Ray said.
Sarah Thomas has lived in Van Zandt county for just over a year. She says she's willing to be an extra pair of eyes, mostly because of her daughter Mary, who is a year and a half.
As a mother, she says safety is always a priority, especially in such a large county.
"Most people live outside the city limits in the rural areas and it's a lot of area to cover," Thomas said.
She's glad the sheriff's office is doing something to make a change.
"As neighbors we're more aware of what's going on in our own area than one person trying to watch an entire county so I'd appreciate helping any way I can," she said.
Sheriff ray hopes the rest of the community is as supportive as Thomas.
In the next three and a half years, he wants to cut crime by about 25 percent, and he hopes the people in Van Zandt County will help him achieve that goal.
The sheriff is still organizing the program and needs lots of help. If you want to get involved in the Precinct Watch Program, call this number: 903-567-4133.