VANCOUVER — If you’ve visited the Vancouver Mall at all since Thanksgiving this year, you’ve probably noticed the 25-foot-tall observation tower in one of the parking lots.
This tower, known as Sky Watch, is owned by the Vancouver Police Department and is used regularly throughout the year to help with crime prevention, especially crimes involving automobiles.
“We use it throughout the year, and every year we generally use it throughout the holidays at the mall,” said Kim Kapp, Vancouver Police Department public information officer. “The primary people who staff it are the Neighbors On Watch volunteers. They’re trained on how to raise it up and operate it, we use it as kind of an ‘eye in the sky.’”
Kapp said the Neighbors On Watch volunteers are non-confrontational volunteers who are trained to look for crime and then report it through dispatch. The Sky Watch tower is used primarily for crime prevention and to look for crime activities like auto prowls, which are common in areas like the mall parking lot, especially over the holidays.
The volunteers who are staffed at the Sky Watch tower work in groups of three, usually with one person in the tower, one person on the ground and one person manning the base radio. If the person in the tower sees a crime happening, they then report that directly to dispatch and police officers will come check it out.
Kapp said Sky Watch is generally out in the mall parking lot from Thanksgiving until right after Christmas. However, during the holidays is not the only time that the tower is used. Sky Watch is also used to observe crowds during large gatherings or events in the area, including the Fourth of July fireworks show at Fort Vancouver that is held every July. Kapp said they use it during that event to help look for lost children, to make sure fireworks are not being shot off in the area and also to watch for auto prowls.
In addition to using the tower at large gatherings, Kapp said the police department also uses it throughout the year in different areas around Vancouver.
“It’s great for auto prowl, you can see like 50 cars at one time,” Kapp said. “If we notice a hot spot for auto prowls like a hotel parking lot or something, we’ll park it there for a few days or a week and will generally try to keep it staffed. The other thing is that we hope people in the auto prowling industry see it (the tower) and just don’t even bother committing the crimes. We’ve definitely noticed a downturn in that type of crime in the areas where we’ve parked it. Thieves see it and decide it’s not a good spot, we find it to be very effective as we move it around.”
As far as the tower itself is concerned, Kapp said it is actually more spacious than it looks. One person at a time can be stationed inside, and there’s a desk, a chair and a complete 360-degree view with windows all around. The windows are also made with bulletproof glass.
Kapp said the tower was actually a piece of military surplus equipment that was purchased by the Vancouver Police Department in 2008. It was shipped to Vancouver from England and, including shipping, cost $14,000.
“We use it a lot, and we have definitely gotten our value out of it,” Kapp said.
Back in 2015, Kapp said the tower was actually given a small facelift and received a fresh paint job, complete with the addition of the police department’s most recent logo.
Any community members who are interested in finding out more about becoming a Neighbors On Watch volunteer and possibly working in the tower can visit http://www.cityofvancouver.us/police/page/neighbors-watch-now-recruiting-additional-volunteers for more information.