Tri-City residents fed up with home burglaries have fought back by partnering with law enforcement agencies, employing a mix of Neighborhood Watch groups and teams of police volunteers, sometimes using upgraded technology to catch criminals.

It's hard to argue with the results, as burglary rates are down throughout southern Alameda County this year, police agencies say.

Fremont burglaries decreased 20 percent between 2012 and last year, and Union City's rate dipped by 3 percent. Newark enjoyed the steepest drop, 41 percent.

The city of around 42,500 people has succeeded in attacking the crime from several sides, said Tim Jones, a member of Newark police's community engagement team. "It's not one singular thing that has done it," he said. "It's been about people working more in unison with police."

Newark's turnaround started in early 2012, when Mayor Alan Nagy took office, Jones said. Nagy made the growth of Neighborhood Watch groups a priority and residents responded by creating 45 active watch organizations.

Those watch groups -- trained and managed by Jones and his supervisor, retired Cmdr. Donna Shearn -- have emerged as the department's eyes and ears on the street, Jones said.

"We have trained neighborhood captains and given them cheat sheets on what to say to dispatchers so they report crimes more efficiently and accurately," he said. "Dispatchers are reporting that calls have become much better and clearer, helping us send officers to crime scenes more quickly."

Newark's community engagement team also oversees more than 50 police volunteers donating time to the graffiti removal team and the RAVEN program, in which volunteers interview witnesses in minor crimes, check on vacationers' homes and take on clerical duties. The work might seem mundane but it yields positive results, Jones said.

"It lets the black-and-white go out and chase bad guys," he said.

Plus, Newark's new records management system allows officers to write reports and do other administrative work much more quickly than before, said Cmdr. Michael Carroll. "That frees officers to patrol the streets and follow up on tips," he said.

As a result, police response times have improved, making residents more likely to contact authorities when they see a crime, Carroll said.

"What's changing is the community is really involved in helping us," he said. "When people really own their neighborhoods, they make us so much more effective."

Neighboring cities have enjoyed success from similar methods.

Fremont has lowered its burglaries from 1,176 in 2012 to 944 the following year by communicating with residents through crime watch groups and social media. But perhaps the city's most distinctive crime-fighting technique involves private surveillance cameras, said police spokeswoman Geneva Bosques.

Fremont police have created a database of surveillance cameras citywide so that, whenever a burglary occurs, detectives can ask the nearest camera-system owner to share their footage, Bosques said.

"We know the community wants to help us," she said. "So, we're trying to give them the information they need to be more involved."

In Union City, Cmdr. Ben Horner said its increase in Neighborhood Watch groups explains its slight decrease in burglaries.

"We have more than 50 watch programs now," he said. "Our citizens have become very good about calling in about suspicious persons."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.