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By Griselda Nevarez

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Five years ago, Rosa Pastrana was getting ready to go to work when she went outside and noticed her truck had been stolen right out of her driveway in Phoenix.

This was the third time someone had taken her truck. But this time, unlike previous times, she wouldn’t be able to recover it.

“I was so upset,” Pastrana, a single mother of four, said. “It took me a lot of work to get that truck.”

Phoenix police helped her recover the truck the first two times, because it had a tracking device installed. By the third robbery, however, the truck no longer had the tracking device and the police was unable to find it.

Members of the Peralta Lions Block Watch recently held a meeting to discuss how they can help Phoenix police find the suspected shooter responsible for the deaths of seven people.Peralta Lions Block Watch

Still, Pastrana said she felt the police officer assigned to her case didn’t do enough to help her. And perceiving that crime levels in her west Phoenix neighborhood were rising, she worried she’d be a victim of robbery again.

“The situation was only getting worse,” she said. “At the time, thieves were starting to get into the habit of breaking into houses and apartments. They just didn’t care.”

Pastrana wanted to do something to reduce crime in her neighborhood. So in 2011, she formed a block-watch group through the Phoenix Neighborhood Patrol Program, which trains people on how to conduct patrols, avoid confrontation and report crimes.

Pastrana’s Osborn Block Watch is made up of more than 60 vigilant neighbors who spend their free time patrolling the streets and reporting suspicious activity. They meet with police officers once every two months to discuss what they’ve seen and to report any complaints they may have related to interaction with police.

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Pastrana said that when she started the Osborn Block Watch, there were already dozens of similar block-watch groups formed in Phoenix. But none of them were predominately Latino, even though the city has pockets where the majority of residents are Latinos.

Now, she said there are nearly 10 block-watch groups in Phoenix and most are led by Latina moms.

Lately, these block-watch groups have been helping police search for the suspect responsible for a string of drive-by shootings that began in April and have claimed the lives of seven people, including a 12-year-old and a 16-year-old. Most of the shootings have occurred in Maryvale, a neighborhood in west Phoenix that is 77 percent Latino.

Monica Baquera, a mother of three who’s a member of the Peralta Lions Block Watch, one of the newly formed block-watch groups, said she and others are “keeping our eyes peeled” for any tips that could help police. They’re also spreading the word about a composite sketch of the suspected shooter that police released recently.

Members of the Osborn Block Watch attended one of the bi-montly meetings to discuss suspicious activities they've seen in their neighborhoods and to report complaints related to interaction with police.Osborn Block Watch

Baquera added that her group – made up of nearly 20 members, most of whom are Latina moms – serves as the “eyes and ears” of the Phoenix Police Department. They patrol the neighborhood once a week and look for anything that looks suspicious, such as abandoned houses, where she said crimes and drug deals occur often.

“We do this because we want our children to grow up in a place that’s free of drugs and free of crime,” Baquera said.

But at times, it came be a challenge to get Latinos to call police even when they’re victims of a crime. That’s because some don’t trust the police and others are afraid of them. Latinos who are undocumented are especially afraid of calling police because they fear they’ll be asked for a state-issued ID, which they don’t have because their immigration status forbid them from being eligible for one.

Baquera said she felt afraid to call police when she and her family were victims of two robberies. In 2012, someone tried to steal her husband’s truck. The family didn’t report the crime that time, but they did call police when someone broke into their house a week later.

“I put my fear aside and called police because I saw how scared my daughters were, and I wanted to calm their nerves,” she said.

Pastrana said she believes her neighborhood has become safer ever since she started her block watch group five years ago. But she stressed that constant vigilance is key to make more improvements, so she continues to invite others to join her efforts.

“I tell people, ‘If I can do it, why can’t you do it?’” she said. “It’s for our well-being.”

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