BHCA reinvigorating citizen safety walks

Safety chairman Jim Prost and helper

Bolton Hill has had a long history of Citizens on Patrol. COPs are citizens who voluntarily walk the neighborhood on a regular basis acting as “eyes and ears” to prevent crime and watch for safety issues. As a result, volunteers become more familiar with their neighborhood and neighbors, and are better able to recognize conditions that may lead to crime.

These conditions often include identifying safety and quality-of-life items such as: non-working streetlights, poorly lighted areas, open and unlocked doors and gates, broken windows, unattended yards or deferred maintenance, accumulated newspapers and mail, clearly visible “valuables” in automobiles or yards and accumulated trash or graffiti.

An evaluation some years ago of more than 200 resident patrols in 16 urban areas conducted by the Rand Corporation and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration suggested that resident patrols can serve as a potentially effective deterrent to residential crime. Such programs generally enjoy good support from local police as well as residents. Little evidence was found that patrols engaged in vigilante or profiling behaviors. Overall, those patrols with well-trained members, established administrative procedures, affiliations with neighborhood organizations and positive contact with local police are most likely to succeed.

COPs in Bolton Hill, as I understand, was a “bottom up” activity formed from small groups of neighbors that organized themselves. They established a regular (usually weekly) meeting time. They conducted walkabouts on an ad hoc basis with no fixed routes for approximately an hour and returned to their starting point. 

There were no formal training sessions nor background checks. Informal coordination was conducted with the Baltimore City police, but BPD did not participate. Quality of life issues such as broken streetlights, graffiti and accumulated rubbish were reported to city agencies. (The online Baltimore 311 program today facilitates reporting.)

Planned Actions 

Like so much else, COPs was discontinued because of the pandemic. Now with the virus seemingly diminishing, BHCA is reinstituting and reinvigorating COPs. 

On Oct. 14 the BHCA president, safety and security committee chair and Baltimore City Police Officer Thomas Gross (who is assigned to the Bolton Hill area) met in Fitzgerald Park with more than a dozen residents (and six Bolton Hill dogs) to reinitiate citizen walk-arounds. Each subsequent Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. patrols have begun and ended in the 1300 block of Bolton Street. Citizens on patrol had the opportunity to meet and greet other neighbors on their stoops or walking around the neighborhood. In each patrol an average of approximately six items of “housekeeping” were reported to the city through 311. In one case an open door was discovered and subsequently closed in a renovation project. No damage or theft was evidenced. No suspicious activity was uncovered.

BHCA plans to continue these patrols and would like to expand the number of patrols conducted in sub-areas throughout the neighborhood. A second COPs patrol is starting this month in Bolton Hill’s north end. The safety and security committee aspires to have at least a frequent patrol in each quadrant of the neighborhood, eventually with multiple evening walkabouts. They would enable residents to meet their immediate neighbors, to patrol and to become more familiar with their immediate surrounding blocks. Multiple days and times would make it easier for residents to participate and create more opportunities for exercise.

As we restore COPs, we envision instituting elements which have an established potential for success. It could include (but not be limited to):

  • Shared contact information for patrol members
  • Annual planning meetings 
  • Establishing administrative procedures
  • Appropriate training such as patrol procedures, crime prevention, identifying suspicious behavior, how to be safe, when (and when not) to call 911 and what information to provide, avoiding profiling, basic law issues, behavioral intervention, first aid, CPR, etc.
  • Background checks
  • Identifying and addressing potential liability issues.

This is part of a series of articles on safety and security in Bolton Hill written by Jim Prost, chair of the BHCA Safety and Security Committee. If you have questions or would like to participate in Citizens on Patrol or other safety committee activities, please contact him at safety@boltonhillmd.org.

Jessica Daily

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