Fowler Area Watch, a community watch group, hosted an impromptu meeting at the Blackburn Dennis Community Center on on Jan. 10 in the wake of Fowler Police Chief Webster Hogue and his sole officer's sudden resignations earlier that day.
Sunny Eddy, who along with his wife Brenda, oversee the Fowler Area Watch group, held the meeting to inform citizens to keep calm, to review community and personal safety strategies, and to stress that vigilantism is unacceptable and dangerous.
"This is a temporary situation," Eddy said. "Every single one of us here are very important in our community. ... If we band together, every single one of us can make an impact against the crime entering [town]."
Eddy emphasized that townsfolk should rally their circles of influence. He encouraged residents to reach out to family, friends and neighbors -- particularly vulnerable people such as elderly or disabled residents -- to form points of contact and to keep others informed by maintaining a flow of information.
Make a list of neighbors, collect their phone numbers, inform them of any observed suspicious activity, Eddy urged. Keep porch lights on at night; don't leave keys in the front seat of a vehicle; lock vehicles at night, lock doors and windows leading into the home.
One resident suggested everyone should get a dog for home security.
Perhaps the most stressed point, however, was of the danger that accompanies engaging a suspected burglar or criminal with firearms.
"We want to be extremely careful not to confront anyone with firearms," Eddy said. He warned residents that even if they successfully shot and neutralized a "criminal," they could very well face severe legal ramifications, including prison time and the loss of the right to wield their firearms.
Eddy continued, insisting that if residents felt it necessary to wield firearms, to "take training, get training. There are ramifications that you have to think through."
He referred residents to the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, a resource for gun owners facing legal consequences in cases of self defense. Eddy also made it a point that law-abiding Fowler residents were likely not the only people with access to weapons.
"There are some dangerous guys out there," said Eddy.
Otero County Sheriff's Office, according to Eddy, discovered "many AR-15 rounds" at a recent crime scene or scenes. The AR-15s themselves were absent,possibly indicating that someone or multiple people in the area could be in possession of semi-automatic rifles. Eddy said he was told this during a conversation with Otero County Sheriff's Office officials on Wednesday.
Eddy advised against approaching anyone whom they might suspect of having stolen property. Instead, he suggested contacting Otero County Sheriff's Office.
"Undersheriff Wallace said they are recovering goods all the time," Eddy said.
Otero County Sheriff Shawn Mobley said on Thursday that OCSO is assisting Fowler with patrolling the town as the city works to fill the three vacant police department positions.
"Now is probably a good time to remind people to be a good neighbor," said Mobley. "Help us police the area. If you see something suspicious, please call. People like to post things on Facebook if they see something, but my dispatch doesn't monitor Facebook. So get them to call the office, our mainline at 384-5941 or if it's an emergency, obviously 911, so that we can get deputies dispatched and they can get the situation taken care of."
Residents were calm, even high-spirited, as they left the community meeting. Further into the evening, pictures were posted to Fowler Area Watch's Facebook page demonstrating that residents had listened to advice and turned on their porch lights. Others volunteered at the meeting to keep a particularly close eye over their residential blocks, and later uploaded photo proof of such to the Facebook group.