Citizens on Patrol
Citizens on Patrol (COP) are organized groups of citizens who volunteer their time to patrol their neighborhoods. To date there are approximately 100 groups patrolling neighborhoods in Baltimore County. Members use their own vehicles with signs that identify them as COP. Any community or neighborhood can organize a patrol. A patrol can have as few as two members.
Benefits of COP
The Citizens on Patrol program is a very effective crime prevention tool for all communities. Most of the neighborhoods post COP street signs at all entrances, advertising their patrol. Having a patrol has many benefits:
- Acts as additional "eyes and ears" for their local police officers
- Visibility in the community is the best deterrent to crime
- Sends a strong message that residents care about their community and are united
- Draws a community closer together
- Opens new lines of communication
- Program participation helps form long term partnerships and friendships
- Create a safer and more secure community
Starting a Patrol
Many patrol groups suggest the prospect of a future COP, or general crime prevention, as a topic for one of their regular association meetings.
- Set up a community meeting to discuss the needs of the community.
- Contact and invite a Community Outreach Officer from your local Precinct, who will attend and explain the program.
- Recruit and sign up volunteers every chance you get.
- Create a schedule that is flexible and convenient for your patrollers, don't become regimented with a specific schedule. Flex and change your hours and routine so that potential criminals won't know when you are patrolling.
- Once you have established a group of volunteers, contact your Community Outreach Officer and coordinate a training session. Startup packets and COP manuals are available through your Community Outreach unit.
COP patrollers are observers only. They report criminal and suspicious activity, or needs for emergency assistance, to the police. They are not vigilantes. They do not carry weapons, or confront persons engaged in criminal or suspicious activity.
Baltimore County offers grant funding to supplement groups for startup and operation costs. The grants usually open for applications around April of each year. Other groups have funded their patrols through their associations or strictly through donations.
All communities need some sort of crime prevention mechanism in place. Many patrols are in very stable and established communities to keep their streets safe and keep problems out.
- Communication – Radios or cell phones are used to communicate with the police. Cellphone operations are a very inexpensive communication method.
- Mobility – Patrol groups utilize foot patrol or their personal car. Many groups also have daylight patrols which use community members who regularly walk and bike for exercise as observers.
One method of patrolling utilizes three persons: two persons in the car, one of whom drives while the other observes, while the third person remains at home with a radio. This is referred to as a "base station." If the patroller spots something, they radio the "base station," who then calls 911.
Crime trends and statistical information provided by the precinct Community Outreach Team can assist groups in creating a schedule. There is no right or wrong way to patrol as criminals are opportunists and are simply waiting.
The majority of groups patrol just two to four days though some groups have a patrol out as often as seven days and nights each week. A patrol should be tailored to fit the needs of the community and its members. Letting members sign up on a calendar is a simple and organized method to schedule patrollers. Create a varied schedule so no potential criminals can pinpoint your patrol routine.