Providence locks up

by Morgan Smith

Back, left to right: Annie McCanless, Ashley Reid, Erich Jegier, Adair Sloan, Andrew Blalock, Officer J.D. Russell and Officer Beth Jackson. Second Row: Cole Deaver, Cameron Bureau, Annie Spence, Margaret Shelton, Christian Elken, Allie Michel, Anrea Rocha and Laurel Tobias. Front: Megan DeJohn and Officer R.E. Vandergrift pose with the competition trophy. Morgan Smith/MMHW photo

Students at Providence High School know how important it is to lock your car and hide your valuables. That’s why they were named winners in the first high school crime prevention awareness initiative from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s South Division.

The school has competed against South Mecklenburg and Ardrey Kell high schools since March in the competition, where two response area officers for each school audited 50 cars in school parking lots once a week for unlocked doors, valuables and money left in plain sight.

“Some weeks were better than other weeks. It was the little stuff like sunglasses and iPod chargers” left in cars, Officer J.D. Russell, a community coordinator in south Charlotte, said. His partner, Officer R.E. Vandergrift, added that he found a lot of purses in cars.

Officers started the program, which is patterned after the department’s neighborhood competition that teaches people to prevent crime by locking their cars and homes and keeping garage doors closed, as an outlet to reach area teenagers.

Officer Beth Jackson, a police community coordinator in south Charlotte and coordinator of the competition, said she hopes there was some educational benefit.

“Even if we only reach one person and they take the idea back to their neighborhood or a shopping center… if it reminds them to take something out (of their car), it’s a benefit,” she said.

Providence took the title with 222 points, followed by South Mecklenburg at 235 and 273 points for Ardrey Kell. Points were given based on unlocked doors and visible valuables, making the school with the lowest amount of points the winner. Bonus points, which were subtracted from the score each week, were given to schools that advertised the competition remindeding students to lock up. Jackson said students came up with several different ideas for advertising, such as signs, fliers, bulletin boards and most effective, YouTube videos.

Megan DeJohn, a junior student council member at Providence, was the publicity chair. Her committee was in charge of getting the word out for the competition at the winning campus.

“It really made people aware of the problem,” she said. For her, the greatest thing about the competition was the knowledge she and her peers gained about car safety.

“Loose change and chargers were a big thing for me,” she said, adding that she didn’t realize how easily people leave behind clues of their valuables, such as iPod chargers or GPS mounts.

Anne McCanless, the Providence High student council advisor, said Megan played a key roll in Providence’s success in the competition.

“Megan just dove right into it. She designed the program and pushed the kids to stay involved,” McCanless said.

She added that the students at Providence really embraced the program, and that’s why the school saw success.

“They did a good job – kids don’t want to have things stolen out of their car. They learned and this is a good program,” McCanless said. She hopes police continue the project in the future.

“I think if they can expand the number of schools involved, it would also make it more challenging,” she said.

Russell said he thought the program was a success, although in the future, officers hope to leave more reminders on cars for students to hide their valuables.

“I thought it was successful because it seemed like it was getting better and better; the numbers were getting better,” Russell said. “Some weeks were really good, but other weeks, people would become complacent and forget like we always do.”

But overall, students were just happy to have another competitive outlet with their rival schools.

“It’s always good to beat Ardrey Kell – doesn’t matter what it is,” junior Margaret Shelton said. “It’s good to beat them.”

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