Alamo Springs Landowner’s Newsletter #1: Neighborhood Crime

21 August 2011
On Wednesday, 17 August, at 7pm some 40+ Alamo Springs landowners met at the community church to learn about a number of burglaries, thefts, and crimes that have occurred on the ranch this summer and discuss options for dealing with them.

Rolf Smith and David Mesch had organized the meeting. Rolf introduced himself as a retired Air Force Colonel and an Alamo Springs landowner since 1977, and facilitated the meeting. He passed out an incomplete list of landowners’ names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails and asked those at the meeting to update it and add the names of anyone who was not on the list whom them felt would be interested. The list would be valuable in creating a Neighborhood Watch and a Neighbor Alert Network or Telephone Tree similar to the way Volunteer Fire Departments work.

On Wednesday morning 28 July6, between 4:36am and 9:30am, someone trespassed on Rolf’s son’s 16 acres at the end of Deer Road. They opened the electrical box on the power pole, disconnected the meter, cut the heavy copper cables running underground to the house, and cut the cable inside the house in the breaker box, pulled the copper cable out of the pipe (aprox 180 feet) and stole it. The house was unoccupied at the time and is under construction. Kendall County Deputy Sherriff’ Kyle Stiffler responded to Rolf’s call within 20 minutes and CID officer Eric Williams arrived 45 minutes later to investigate the crime scene and collect evidence. Charges have been filed.

When Rolf began calling and e-mailing neighbors and friends on the ranch to warn them about the theft, he learned of other recent burglaries and thefts:
• A month or so ago someone had trespassed on Sean Graham’s property (Deer Road), cut and stolen the copper cable running to a solar-powered well, and cut the lock on a storage building and rummaged through it.
• Greg Graham (Ancient Coast) had some cattle panels stolen that were leaning against his fence.
• Some rifles were stolen from a B&B on Pine
• Warren Holmgreen had a new electric chain saw stolen (721 Deer Road)
• Some goats have been reported as stolen
• The Alamo Springs Café’s outside neon signs were stolen.
• A box of checks and credit cards statements were stolen out of a mailbox.
• Poaching has increased (butchered deer carcasses dumped on the roadside)

Rolf said that he followed up on the cable theft case and some of the above crimes with both the Kendall and Gillespie County Sheriff’s Department as well as with detective Javier Sanchez of the Fredericksburg Police Department. Rolf learned that both Sheriffs’ offices and the Fredericksburg police have some potential suspects for a number of apparently related crimes. They also advised that there have been quite a number of copper cable thefts in Gillespie County and all over the state and that A/C condensers have also become a target.

A number of the incidents listed above had not been reported to the Sherriff. The CID offices in both counties emphasized the importance of reporting crimes, asking for an investigator to come out, getting a case number or incident report number, and getting a copy of the report. It may then be possible to tie various crimes and potential suspects together.
If you learn about a burgulary or theft or have a tip call it in to the Crime Stoppers anonymous line 800-348-LEAD (5323)
During the meeting several participants mentioned significant burglaries and thefts on the ranch in the past which were solved by the Sheriff CID – and the perpetrators (who were Alamo Springs residents) were arrested and served jail time. Evidence or first hand witness information is critical – license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions or photos with cell phone cameras have proven invaluable in a number of cases, taken when someone was situationally aware and suspicious.

Rolf said he intended to put up REWARD & WANTED posters as well as an ad in the paper about the crimes. Over $500 has been pledged as reward money for information leading the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators of the listed crimes. During the meeting several additional offers were made to add funds to that. A bank account will need to be set up and connected to the CRIME STOPPERS Program (800-348-5323 for anonymous tips) to supplement the country-funded program (typically $1,000) and/or run ads in the newspaper; Rolf said he was willing to do that.

• Cindy Collins raised a concern that making this public knowledge might affect property values if Alamo Springs was viewed as a place of crime.
• Rolf pointed out that at the moment it is a place where crimes are going on unstopped and unsolved. Further, some of the crimes indicate knowledge that only people living on the ranch were likely to have – which has been the case in the past with arrests and convictions.
• After the meeting the armed robbery of the Alamo Springs Café (including shots fired by the robber) in March 2010 was mentioned – and fact that the robber (although not a resident) was later arrested on the ranch at the home of a relative.

Lynn Kuenstler introduced himself as both a resident landowner and a Texas Parks & Wildlife police officer and emphasized the importance of community awareness and communication with our neighbors. He urged everyone to get out, walk around, introduce yourself to people you don’t know. Stop your car and talk with people taking walks or who are picking up their mail. Get to know more people on the ranch. Lynn pointed out that deer hunting season opens in October and lasts through January – and that will mean many strange vehicles driving on the ranch in the early morning and late evening hours. Do not be shy about reporting anything that appears to be suspicious activity.

Rolf said he was willing to pay for highly visible numbered Alamo Springs Crime Watch stickers for residents’ vehicles similar to those used in many gated communities in larger cities. They would be for Landowners and residents only. A number of suggestions were made on size and design and how to control issuing them.

Joan O’Brien also introduced herself as a previous police officer and had been the owner of a security business. She made several suggestions about increasing communication as well and said that she had recently seen people on the ranch firing a handgun at deer from a moving truck. Several other people mentioned seeing deer carcasses on the side of the road over the last few months.

Rolf described the Alamo Springs Landowners Association that he had helped form in 1984 and the success it had had in putting pressure on the County to address and remedy a number of issues facing the residents on the ranch. A lively discussion ensued with concerns voiced over more typical Home Owner Associations’ Rules & Laws. Some of those present said that they did not want anyone telling them what they can and can’t do with their land – no regulations, no codes, no “rules” – that’s why they moved to Alamo Springs in the first place.

To answer those concerns, Rolf pointed out that that the original Landowners’’ Association had had NO “RULES” AND NO “REGULATIONS” in its charter. Also that there had been no dues required – it initially worked on voluntary contributions. Its purpose was to give Alamo Springs landowners and residents a strong voice with the county and the state. To that end, the Association had been very successful in getting county roads, electricity, and school bus pickups. Joining the original Landowners Association had been totally voluntary and not everyone on the ranch had signed up. Rolf said that it could be resurrected with a new focus on neighborhood watch, communication, crime prevention, crime reporting, and increased voice and pressure with the county on issues of concern to residents and landowners. A Landowners association would need to work with the county to improve roads, signage, speed limits, and law enforcement patrols.

Rolf said he would be willing to take point on getting the Crime Watch/Neighborhood watch started, would put together a list with the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails of everyone who was interested and who sent him their information. If anyone did NOT want their information made public they should let him know. He said that he would summarize the meeting in an e-mail (which has now turned into this Newsletter).

Several people volunteered to help with the work that will be involved in making all of this happen. Please send him any ideas, observations, and suggestions at THINK@DIFFFERENT.COM
The meeting ended at 8pm.

NEXT STEPS: The following are some important next steps for the community:
1. Distribute the results of the meeting by e-mail (this “Newsletter” does that). Pass this newsletter on to anyone who is interested but did not attend.
2. The Neighborhood Watch motto is “We Look Out For Each Other.” To do that we need to know who “Each Other” is.
3. Complete the list of names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails that Rolf has started; use that as the basis for an Alamo Springs telephone alert tree. At this point we have 73 names with addresses, phone numbers, and e-mails of interested and concerned landowners and residents. The National Neighborhood Watch Institute (NNWI) stresses that Family Data sheets are the key piece of paperwork in implementing a Neighborhood Watch program.
4. Come up with a date and time for a follow-on meeting and pass on the information from this meeting to people who were not able to attend or who were not aware of it.
5. Everyone make a deliberate effort to meet and get acquainted with their neighbors whom they do not yet know. Get to know 5 new people on the ranch before the next meeting.
6. Rolf will contact the Crime Stoppers and Neighborhood Watch organizations to obtain information on how best to organize at Alamo Springs. He will update everyone on what he finds out.
7. Buy or make Crime Stoppers and Neighborhood Watch signs and posters to display prominently around Alamo Springs and raise awareness.
8. Rolf will find out how to set up a bank account for the Reward Money and how to connect it with the Crime Stoppers Hot Line.
9. Develop a list of:
a. What you feel are Alamo Springs’ strengths, weaknesses and problems related to crime.
b. Three (3) things that you feel could improve possible prevention of crime either on your street or road, or on Alamo Springs overall.
c. Rolf will summarize these and send the list out to the community as a starter for improving crime prevention at Alamo Springs.
10. If you learn about a burglary or theft, or have a tip, call it in to the CRIME STOPPERS anonymous line: 800-348-LEAD (5323)