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Neighborhood Watch gets a foot into rural, agricultural Ballico

BALLICO -- Neighborhood Watch is not just for the city.

This group of people who watch out for each other hosted a general meeting Thursday night at Ballico School, attended by about 65.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin swore in five volunteers, Chaplain Duane Driver, Janet and Terry Passarino, Daniel Johnson and Janelle Scheper, during the 75-minute meeting.

Residents also quizzed Deputy Brian Miller about ways to keep their rural, agricultural area safe.

As community volunteers, the Passarinos will be extra eyes and ears for Ballico, patrolling the area to prevent thefts and other crimes.

Passarino retired four years ago after 30 years with the Merced City Fire Department and now farms 18 acres of almonds in Ballico.

As area coordinator for the Ballico Area Neighborhood Watch, Passarino plans to spend at least 10 hours a week inside a department-issued patrol car checking for suspicious activity.

His wife, Janet, said Ballico is a very close-knit community. She said it hits home when she knows people have been victimized by thefts or burglaries.

"I grew up here and this is home for me," she said. "We feel our community is important to us and we want a safe place to live."

Pazin said the sheriff's office has limited resources, is stretched thin and volunteers fulfill a vital role.

Volunteers must take a 40-hour course that includes training in driving, police radio transmission codes, the coroner's office, corrections division, dispatch and patrol functions before they are qualified.

Scott Catlin has lived in Ballico for six years but works in Modesto. He said when he was a boy his parents' Winton farm was burglarized.

Miller said if Neighborhood Watch members want training in some law enforcement aspect, the sheriff's department will be glad to accommodate them. He fielded questions from area residents wondering about graffiti and what to do when they confront potential crimes.

Miller said volunteers are akin to a "one-two punch" because criminals see a patrol car, even with a volunteer insignia on the side, and know a regular deputy also is in the area. He advised residents not to make themselves a target for burglars or robbers and be careful who they tell when they are going on vacation or flash credit cards when they are checking out at a grocery store.

Neighborhood Watch began last June in Ballico. Six block captains hold monthly meetings.

"All neighbors are watching out for each other and it's gotten to be a habit," Terry Passarino said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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