Combined Neighborhood Watch gathering to focus on mental health after COVID

Culpeper Police Sgt. Anthony Caruso and Lt. Ashley Banks promote National Night Out, an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie.

After a year-and-a-half of not meeting, the Culpeper Police Department’s Combined Neighborhood Watch will gather in person Thursday, July 22, at 6:30 p.m. at the Culpeper Baptist Church.

“Our last in-person meeting was February 2020, and then in that March or April they had one virtual meeting, but then after that it kind of stopped because we didn’t have the community people watching it, we had everyone else watching it and making comments and it just took away from that [community] feel,” Culpeper Police Lt. Ashley Banks said.

After a presentation of the Amazing Citizen Award for the past few months at 6:30 p.m., the featured speaker will be Jim Graffe, executive director of the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board, will discuss mental health and services that are available to the community. He’ll address the group for about 45 minutes, and then take questions for about 15 more minutes. (The meeting will also be live-streamed on the Culpeper PD’s Facebook page.)

Lt. Banks said the topic of mental illness was specifically chosen after a year-and-a-half of lockdowns and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s a hot topic right now, locally and nationally, especially with a lot of people who were not able to get services that they needed with the pandemic,” he said. “Coming out of the pandemic, we’re just trying to let people know what services are available.”

“In Culpeper, we have a total of 25 different neighborhood watch groups, each of which has their own liaison officer from the Police Department,” said Sgt. Anthony Caruso. “Some are more active than others, but they get together or have meetings every month — or least they used to prior to COVID. We’re trying to get them back into that now.”

The “combined” part of the Combined Neighborhood Watch Meeting means it’s open to both Neighborhood Watch members and the general public. Usually, an investigator will give updates on crime trends and cases, as well as traffic safety campaigns or other events going.

“It’s not quite a town-hall meeting, but just to give [out] information,” Lt. Banks said. “For this one, however, we’re just having Mr. LaGraffe for 45 minutes. The whole meeting is dedicated to him.”

In addition to the relaunching of the Combined Neighborhood Watch Meetings, the Culpeper Police Department is also promoting upcoming events such as Pack a Patrol Car for back-to-school and the Tuesday, Aug. 3, National Night Out program. National Night Out, an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie, had to be postponed until October last year — or not held at all — across the nation.

“Last year it was scheduled for August, however, they put an asterisk next to it and said if you community didn’t feel safe to do it, you can do it in October. I think some communities are still doing that,” Lt. Banks said. “The larger ones still had something, but it was scaled back, especially with the number of people you could have at an event.”

Sgt. Caruso said some neighborhoods do something as small as an ice cream social, while other groups will just get together and have a barbecue at somebody’s house. “Some of our bigger groups … have a bunch of different vendors, sometimes games and food,” he said, noting that AirCare 6 Medivac is scheduled to showcase its helicopter in the Belle Court and Spring Meadow Lane neighborhoods.

“That’s one of our biggest events in town every year,” he said.

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