ORLANDO, Fla. – While our first responders play a critical role in keeping communities safe, neighbors can also have a big impact by coming together.
That’s something Margaret Hill has known for years. She’s the Neighborhood Watch Captain for Orlando’s Rock Lake neighborhood and she takes the safety of her community seriously.
“What we are is the eyes that are watching to make sure our community is always safe,” said Hill. “You know, you can’t control human behavior. And what you can do is just make our neighbors aware that there are things we need to do to protect ourselves.”
Hill has been working with neighbors since the early 1990s near Colonial and Orange Blossom Trail. Back in May, Rock Lake was named as the Neighborhood Watch of the Year for 2020.
“We are one of the original communities from our inception of crime watch,” said Hill. “We were Neighborhood of the Year for the City of Orlando for a Night Out. We have been Neighborhood of the Year for Crime Watch twice. We’ve had block captains honored for District 5 three times.”
In some neighborhoods, the watches aren’t widely attended. There isn’t a lot of interest. So why does it work so well at Rock Lake.
“Quality of life is one thing we look forward to, communication, prevention, intervention and connection. We have a community where there are many people who are related to each other,” said Hill.
Hill said that makes it easy to share information amongst friends. They also put on events like block parties to encourage communication, patrol together and even work with the police together.
“During COVID time, we really started to walk this community and walking was another way that we started to jot down things that we could call the police department and say, ‘Look, this is going on,’” said Hill. “And I tell them all the time, I say, ‘Continue to patrol our area, we’re not cutting and fighting and shooting every weekend. But we still need your presence.’ And so they ride through to let people know. And anytime we call instantly, they’re here. Also the fire department, we can’t forget the fire department because they are part of our Crime Watch. If something happens, they’re the first person to come to take care of somebody if they’re hurt during one of whatever the events are.”
And that attitude has now grown to include the entire West Lakes Partnership area...
“So what we did collectively through Florida Citrus sports, the West Lakes Partnership, Lift Orlando, Polis Foundation, we’ve come together to make sure that we continue to support each other. So it’s not just about Rock Lake now. It’s about the five neighborhoods that I work with. And it’s also about the people of Central Florida. What we’ve done, is we have come together to try to, we can’t stop crime, but we can at least be aware of what’s going on,” said Hill. “I think building the bridges with all the people who sit in our community is very necessary if we’re going to continue to be strong with Crime Watch.”
But it’s not just about keeping crime out of the area, she’s also an advocate for her neighbors.
‘The Rock Lake Neighborhood Center is our jewel,” said Hill. “We moved in this area in the late 70s, early 80s. And there was no community center here. The neighbors actually put together a plan with Commissioner Daisy Lynum and said, ‘We have to get these kids out the street. We don’t want them playing basketball in the street. We want them connected to community,’ So we came about we also have a community garden in the back.”
And that’s not all.
“One of the the neighborhoods, which is near the Citrus Bowl, did not have a crime watch community set up. And so one of the things that several of us from the Rock Lake neighborhood did was we’ve decided to go down and attend one of their meetings. And one of the things that we suggested during that neighborhood meeting was to look into the Crime Watch program. Call officer Carl Anderson, he’ll come in and he’ll help you. So I think that that is another proud moment for me, because they just had the first block party, and if they had one person, they had 500 people. It was wonderful,” said Hill. “And with the new park, I was very instrumental in being on the committee that the new Lorna Doone Park, because I want our children to have someplace safe to go.”
But despite being known as the ringleader, Hill said Crime Watch takes a village to make Rock Lake the safest neighborhood in Orlando.
“There are a lot of things that we as neighbors have done to improve this neighborhood. I don’t take everything by myself, because I can’t do it by myself. I believe in teamwork out to support and represent. But it’s a team effort.”