A GOOD AND WATCHFUL NEIGHBOR

Von Moye’s combination of neighborhood watch and social media is making the East Side safer

Ask Von Moye for a good example of the East Nashville Neighborhood Watch Facebook group in action and he immediately delivers.
     “Back in November, over near Stratford High School, we had a 92-year-old gentleman who took his trash to the road,” Moye says. “As he was coming back in, he noticed three boys walking down the road and messing with trash cans. He went back in his house and watched the boys through his window.
     “He saw them go in the neighbor’s house across the street and leave the door open. He knew this was not right and called 911. The boys left with a laptop and some other items. When the alert went out, Sandra, the lady that monitors the police scanner for the East Nashville Neighborhood Watch group, posted it on Facebook and it went out to over 6,000 people. A lady on Riverside saw the post and the descriptions and spotted the three boys in the creek behind her home. She called the police and they arrested them. That’s how neighborhood watch works.”
     Moye speaks with formal, intensely focused sentences and an attention to details, often peppering his stories with informational asides. A landscaper by trade, Moye also spends over 20 hours a week pursuing his primary passion — making East Nashville a safe neighborhood. As the founder and one of the administrators of the East Nashville Neighborhood Watch Facebook group, Moye disseminates information about crimes, suspicious activity, and emergency situations to over 6,000 members of the group and the Metro Police Department. A native of West Virginia, Moye settled in East Nashville in 1987.
     “At the time, I was working in retail management in pharmacies,” Moye says. “That was my introduction to dealing with crime — shoplifting, employee theft, and even armed robbery. I got to know many police officers and saw some of the challenges they face.”
     Although his former profession provided some exposure to law enforcement, a very personal and frightening incident transformed Moye into a community activist. In October 2012, he was visiting his mother in West Virginia when two neighborhood children spotted a man walking through his mother’s backyard and looking in her bedroom window. When they told Moye about the incident, he had some concern, but put it down as a neighbor taking a shortcut to the nearby public library.
     “Four nights later, it was about one o’clock in the morning,” Moye says, “the windows were open, but we had screens in them. My mom yelled for help; there was a man in her room with a light in her face. I thought she was dreaming, but when I got up and went to her room, he jumped out of the window. He was there to steal my mom’s jewelry which you could see through the window. I called the sheriff and five deputies came out.”
     Moye soon discovered that late night breakins were becoming common in the neighborhood. But with no central source of information, few of his neighbors knew about them. Moye was aware of traditional neighborhood watch programs, but monthly meetings or simply calling a hotline to report suspicious activity did not provide citizens or the police with the up-to-date knowledge required to make a difference. Perhaps social media could provide the much-needed conduit between citizens and law enforcement.
     “I started a neighborhood watch Facebook group with 58 people I knew,” Moye says. “By the end of the week we had 150. People that knew my mother started calling me, and soon people started posting information about burglaries. I talked with the officer who had investigated our robbery and began to coordinate the group with the sheriff ’s department. That officer still monitors that page today.”
     After working with the West Virginia Facebook group for several years, Moye decided to follow the same model for East Nashville. Although the ongoing revitalization of the East Side has improved the reputation of East Nashville, the influx of new residents has also created new opportunities for crime to flourish.
     “East Nashville used to catch a lot of bad rap from the other side of town, but we’ve always had good people here” Moye says. “What’s happening now is all these new homes are being built and young people are moving in, but they’re not aware of what goes on in the neighborhood. You have to make people aware that they live in a city where crime can happen. They have to lock their doors and be aware of their surroundings.
     Launched in July 2014, the East Nashville Neighborhood Watch Facebook quickly expanded its membership. After reaching 800 members, Moye arranged a community meeting with Metropolitan Police Department East Precinct Commander David Imhof and Community Affairs Liaison Sgt. Michael Fisher to ask for their cooperation. Covering the area from Dickerson Road east to the Cumberland River and from Nissan Stadium north to Briley Parkway, the East Nashville Neighborhood Watch group now has over 6,000 members reporting suspicious activity, posting questions about neighborhood incidents, and sharing news stories from media outlets and alerts from the Metro Police Department. As a closed group, all membership requests are screened by Moye or one of the four other page administrators.
     “We try to screen people and make sure they live, work, or have ties to, or family in East Nashville,” Moye says. “In the beginning we had some people that just wanted to cause trouble by accusing us of being vigilantes or Barney Fifes. We do not patrol. We do not want people to patrol with guns. Once you have a gun you become 10 feet tall and you’re going to get yourself in a bad situation. We just want people to watch, call the police, and then post what they saw on the page. We also understand that some people don’t want their name public, so many people private message their reports to the administrators and we post the information to the group. We stay focused on reporting and getting the word out.”
     Part of that focus is avoiding editorializing in regards to the reports and information posted to the page. As stated in the group’s statement of purpose, “There are plenty of places to share opinions. This page is for sharing facts and observations that help us protect ourselves, our property and protect others.”
     “When I started the group, some people would report every time their dog barked,” Moye says. “That probably wasn’t suspicious, but I still thanked them for reporting it. I never talk down to people because participation is what makes this work. Some people ask questions that might sound crazy, but it’s not crazy to the person asking the question. What is really bad is when someone reports something and someone else ridicules them. We push the idea of reporting everything because you never know when something suspicious will turn into bad stuff. If you get police out there, they can stop it before it becomes bad. Some people accuse me of encouraging fear, but being aware of what can happen is what makes people safer. People don’t think it’s going to be them, but it will be, or somebody that you know or care about. When there’s a crime, somebody knows something about it.”
     In addition to the Facebook group, Moye publicizes awareness of neighborhood watch with specially designed signs sold at cost and available at Cumberland Hardware in 5 Points. The eye-catching blue and white signs serve as a warning to any potential troublemakers that neighbors are watching and suspicious activity will be reported.
     “It is a team effort and that’s what’s going to make it work,” Moye says. “My goal is 20,000 people on the page within three years. It’s getting awareness out there and making people feel comfortable about talking to officers. A lot of people don’t go to church. It used to be where everybody congregated, got to know each other, and trusted each other. That’s what neighborhood watch has to be — a group of people that reach out and look after each other.
     “Like just today, this wasn’t a crime, but a man with dementia wandered away from his home,” he continues. “We posted the report to Facebook, and luckily, a member of the group spotted him on Gallatin Road. The old man had fallen down and broken his hand and our member probably saved his life. That’s the power of social media and neighborhood watch.”