Saturday, February 24, 2018

Arrow Creek Sen. Bryce Hugs (left) and Pryor resident Cary Lance look over travel routes late Friday evening at a meeting of the Arrow Creek Neighborhood Watch. Using patrols and social media, Lance believes the organization has cut down on crime and drug trafficking in the area.

Patrolling the Wild West

Arrow Creek Neighborhood Watch steps in to take back Pryor
It was a sunny Wednesday morning in Pryor, a small town known for its mountains and wild horses, when shots rang out. By the end of the day, the community changed. A suspected killer had been caught. A daughter had lost her parents.
Ten months after the incident – allegedly perpetrated by a Worland, Wyo. teenager – the Crow Reservation town of 600-plus has become a heavily-armed populace who know that, with their remote location, they can’t often rely on local law enforcement. Driving at his top speed the day of the shootings, County Sheriff Frank Simpson said it took him 40 minutes to reach the town.
Bryce Hugs, a senator of the area’s Arrow Creek District, said residents in Pryor are now “scarce” and “fearful” of unknown visitors. They’re also less likely to help strangers: Residents Jason and Tana Shane had offered assistance to the teen when his car broke down, court documents state, and it allegedly led to their deaths along Pryor Gap Road on July 29, 2015.
Speaking in Pryor that day, Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote asked, “Why help people when you’re only going to get shot?”
“Everybody who comes in is a threat – that’s how they see outside people,” Hugs said of the town’s current mindset. “We’ve got AR’s in almost every household. We’ve got shotguns, rifles and sidearms.”
Keeping an eye out
To protect the town, gain new members and alleviate what he describes as an “enemy territory” attitude, Hugs hosted a meeting of the Arrow Creek Neighborhood Watch starting 6 p.m. Friday at a local community building. In attendance were Sheriff Simpson, County Attorney Jay Harris and an estimated 25 residents.
Neighborhood Watch member Cary Lance, a former soldier in the U.S. Army, cited the homicides as “the last straw” before he and other members decided to create the organization. He grew up with Jason and Tana, adding that some of the people present in the meeting were from their family.
“The night of the murders, a group of us had been talking and, after that happened, we activated,” Lance said. “I volunteer my vehicle, my time, my own equipment to come out and do this.”
The Neighborhood Watch began using social media and regular patrols to discourage and track criminal activities in an effort that runs on community donations. Their most-needed resource is gasoline, tallied via receipts so residents may know how their donations are spent.
In volunteering, they are pushing back against the flow of crime present in the town.
This is often methamphetamine users who steal objects to sell for more drugs. Most recently, members said, users have begun taking solar panels and wires from telephone poles – possibly knocking some wires down using a high-powered rifle.
Drug traffickers are known to travel through and reside in Pryor, and to root them out often requires witnesses whose families, property or lives may be at risk. County Attorney Harris said in a previous interview that Jesus Deniz Mendoza, the teenager who allegedly killed the couple, was a known drug user.
Hugs, whose family members had brushes on both sides of the law, was among the people hit close to home by local crime.
His aunt’s house was burglarized with her in it, he said, and the perpetrators “hit her and knocked over an old man” before taking “what they wanted” and leaving. Three weeks ago in an unconnected incident, his cousin – a violent offender – absconded from probation a day before being captured by law enforcement in a high-speed chase.
“With the extra adrenaline, they can knock the whole door, frame, everything down,” Hugs said of meth users, “and then when the smoke clears, it’s a family member, it’s your cousin. With all these cases I’ve been hearing about, it’s always a relative.” 
Success with social media
Sitting in his truck last Thursday beneath the midnight stars, Lance noticed a welcome silence. He could find no one outside who was stealing or acting suspiciously.
“It was quiet; there weren’t even dogs barking,” he said. “I feel a calmness in Pryor that hasn’t been here for a while.”
According to Lance, Neighborhood Watch has proved more effective than he originally expected. In this regard, he credits patrols and community input on social media.
Prior to his midnight watch, 700 people viewed his social media post in regards to a “suspicious vehicle” with Colorado plates he believed was trying to pick up kids.
More than 300 miles away, the Town of Poplar, Mont. has requested that he visit and explain how to set up a Neighborhood Watch, though he admitted to being new to the process himself.
“The criminal elements that are in our community, there’s only a few of them now,” he said. “I think them knowing that there’s people out here watching is putting a damper on their activities.”
Since being formed on March 3, their Facebook page has posted regular updates on issues including livestock becoming obstacles on local roads, searches for missing and wanted persons, stolen vehicles, car accidents, and – most commonly – meth. 
“The community has had its fill of meth and those who use and sell it,” a March 3 post states. “We, as a community, as a people, must stand up and help stop this poison – and we can do this by being aware of our surroundings.”
As of Sunday, the Neighborhood Watch’s inner group page has gained more than 200 members and the number of people reached is more than 6,000.
Harris is set to draft the organization’s Articles of Incorporation and mission statement.