Spike in burglaries, murders prompts Highlands residents to form crime watch group

A small town where neighbors know and look out for each other say things are changing, and they're forced to change with it
January 3, 2014 4:25:13 PM PST
Residents in Highlands are tired of the criminals controlling their streets. And they now have a plan to win their community back.

Highlands is an unincorporated part of Harris County, which means there's no local police department. The area depends of the Harris County Sheriff's Office for protection. But given the crime they've seen in the past year, they need more help, so they're forming their own crime watch.

It's a community that prides itself on being just that, a small town where neighbors know and look out for each other. They still do, but something else has been added to the mix. Some people call it fear.

"The uncertainty in not knowing where the crime is coming from and exactly what they're after. It's really unsettling to a lot of people," business owner Carla Stanley said.

In the past year, Stanley's cafe was burglarized repeatedly.

"I went for years and didn't get broke into, and they broke in three times in a row and they couldn't stop it," Stanley said.

County crime numbers show burglaries have increased in Highlands, but what concerns people most here is murder. Last month, after a fire swept through a home, and the body of 72-year-old Sue Stagner was discovered. She did not die in the fire; she was murdered, and the fire was an attempt to cover up the crime. That crime remains unsolved.

Five murders were reported in the area last year.

This week, there was a community meeting at the First Baptist Church. Hundreds of people attended, and one of the organizers knows about the murders first hand.

"One was my dad," crime watch organizer Mike James said.

In April, his father Otis James was killed in his Highlands home by an intruder who was later arrested. In response to James' death and others, Highlands crime watch was formed. It has more than 1,100 likes on Facebook, and a lot of people are signing up.

Neighbors are watching out for each other and for crime.

"There's a line here and they've stepped over it," James said.

Highlands was once one of those towns where people lived quietly and in peace. Now it's changing, and the people who call it home are changing with it.

"We plan on taking care of ourselves here, whatever it takes, as a community," James said.

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office says the area will be re-evaluated in March to determine if more deputies should be assigned to the area. But people there aren't waiting. They've already started circulating a sign-up sheet for the crime watch group.

Find Deborah on Facebook at ABC13DeborahWrigley or on Twitter at @wrigleyabc13

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