Social media exploded last week with such force, it made it to the Cottage Grove City Council and local radio stations with residents divided over the formation of an "armed militia" to combat the frequent property thefts around the city. Lines were drawn and debates broke out. Except no one had ever had the intention of forming an armed militia.
At least Reece Bailey didn't. It wasn't his intention when he posted to a popular Cottage Grove social media page asking if residents would be interested in taking part in a neighborhood watch group. It wasn't his intention but within hours the post had hundreds of comments with people backing the notion of an armed group of citizens and others condemning the idea.
The issue began when Bailey said he grew tired of the petty property thefts in his neighborhood.
"I moved here to raise my children here," the New York native said. "I like the small town feel."
But Bailey soon noticed the small-town crime rate.
"They would be so brazen that I would see them come into my carport and they would look right at me in the window," he said of the alleged thieves.
So, he says he took to Facebook and created a post to gauge interest in a neighborhood watch group. He noted the possibility of group members carrying firearms and that is where, he says, the misunderstanding occurred. "I don't want to arrest anyone," he said. "The goal is to observe, document and report to the police," he said. "My interest is in cutting down the crime."
Rumors of an armed militia are false according to Bailey. While he says he would carry his firearm as a safety precaution, it is not the goal to detain suspects or threaten the public with firearms. "It's an open carry state. I don't see anything wrong with defending yourself but we're not an armed militia," he said. Moreover, members of the neighborhood watch group would be subject to background checks and Bailey is aware of the potential for unstable individuals and says those without a background check would not be welcome to join. Cottage Grove Police agree and note that Oregon is an open carry state and allows licensed gun owners to carry a firearm.
"Neighborhood watches work best when it's a group of like-minded individuals and everyone is on the same page with the same expectations and ground rules," said Captain Conrad Gagner.
Cottage Grove Mayor Jeff Gowing had also heard the commotion surrounding the post and noted during the Monday, April 10 council meeting that the Facebook group had misunderstood the intention. "If everyone reported the thefts with the same frequency they report dogs in cars in the summer, we would have this taken care of," he said.
While the local police answer several calls for suspicious activity and thefts on a daily basis, Bailey says he understands staffing issues. "In Josephine County they lost their law enforcement and the citizens stepped up and filled in the gap," he said.
Bailey hopes to model his neighborhood watch after the Guardian Angels of the 1970s in New York. "We would go to the five boroughs but we would never go to the Bronx," said Bailey, who is originally from the upstate area of New York. "People would be sitting on the stoop and these guys would walk by and the crime went down," he said. "It's about having a presence."
Bailey said he has no interest in going beyond documenting possible criminal activity to the local police and noted the entire idea started because of his children. "I don't feel safe here with my kids," he said. And after posting online, he said the issue has taken on a new life.
"A lot of it is putting words in my mouth that I never said," he said. "I just don't get it. For a town of 10,000 people, I don't understand the property crime. The first response I'll get is to lock up my stuff. But it's in my backyard. I want to stand up for my community."