A night shift with the Community Patrollers

The New Plymouth Community patrol police liaison officer Senior Constable Graeme Jones advises how to protect you and your property:-

“Reality is if you want to reduce the crime and prevent yourself from becoming a victim just take these simple steps:-

  • lock things up when you are not using them including your car in the driveway
  • put your vehicles in the garage if you have one available
  • take valuables inside, do not leave valuables in plain sight – even placing them in the boot out of sight is a better option.
  • take photos, record serial numbers and any distinguishing features
  • make a list of your make, model and serial numbers of your valuable items remembering to keep it somewhere safe.
  • Invisible DNA markers are a great invention for coding your valuables.

Our plan is to make the community part of the solution as opposed to the problem   by being aware of situations around them and looking after yourself and your neighbours.

 There is a misconception of what the community patrol does so freelance writer Sharyn Smart spent a “night shift” with New Plymouth volunteers Jonathan Weatherall (left) and Ray Shute (right).

Patrol landscapeMeeting at the police station at 10:15pm on a Saturday night was an experience in itself. Getting out of my car a drunk male offered me $20 to drive him to the other end of town. “I’m meant to be at the police station and I’m running late” seemed enough of a deterrent as he turned and stumbled away.

Every community patrol shift starts with a meeting.  The community patrol police liaison officer Snr Constable Graeme Jones discusses the plan for the night.  Only fully trained patrollers are allowed because of confidentiality so I patiently wait in the reception area of the recently opened New Plymouth police station.

After the meeting, Mr Weatherall and Mr Shute introduce themselves and we head off to the community patrol vehicle.  After signing a confidentiality agreement and being issued with a high visibility jacket, we are ready to start the shift.

Constable Jones also comes and introduces himself as he will be driving around the same area as us tonight.  “Under the prevention first scheme, police presence, along with the high visibility vehicle of the community patrol, have a proven track record of reducing crime,” he says.

The main focus of the evening is an area of Bell Block where there have been a number of car break-ins.

Mr Weatherall says the New Plymouth community patrol is affiliated to the nationwide community patrols New Zealand.  The CPNZ is the only volunteer patrol organisation that has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the NZ police.

“Community patrollers are a high visibility mobile patrol acting as eyes and ears for the police,” he said.

There are more than 140 patrol groups throughout New Zealand with their main objective being to work with the police to reduce crime through their high visibility presence.

He has been with the New Plymouth community patrol since the first day, “because I work in the security industry I actually see the results of crime and I’ve always said ‘there’s never a policeman around when you want one.’  The next best thing is to help the Police.”

Mr Weatherall said all patrollers are unpaid and are citizens who are keen to give back to their community.  “We are always in need of unpaid professionals because we are convinced that the benefits of our work are apparent and also attested to by the police.  The more patrollers that we can have the more the community will benefit.”

Mr Weatherall said that community patrollers are a high visibility deterrent for offenders.  “We want people to know that we are there. There are people looking out for them. We are not there just to help the Police although that is a major part of what we do.  We are there to help anybody that needs help,” he said.

“It is very hard to know what you have deterred by driving along the street. You don’t know who has seen you that have now decided not to commit the crime.  All we do know is when we have hit an area after a rash of crime, the crime level drops.  What we do is hit a place until the issue drops off.  We still continue to do the areas but not so intensely on one night.”

After being approached at a display in centre city Ray Shute decided to volunteer.  “The police are always in bad light with people in the media and they need all the help they can get and that view hasn’t changed.  Sometimes they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” said Mr Shute.

After nearly three years as a volunteer he respects the role he has of being one of many sets of eyes and ears for the police helping to keep his community safe.

“When we do get a “catch” we get acknowledgement from the police and that makes it all worthwhile,” said Mr Shute.

The clearly marked vehicle starts its first high visibility sweep of the town.  The first place to be checked is the notorious “pig out point” officially known as Mt Brian.  Crawling along at 30km an hour with the windows wound down searching for any suspicious behaviour is not the warmest in summer time let alone winter.  Mr Weatherall says that this line of work definitely doesn’t suit everyone.

With Mt Brian all clear the patrol sweeps around East End and Fitzroy beach car parks before heading to Fitzroy School where a foot patrol is carried out.  Entrusted with the police radio I stay close to Mr Weatherall as what I’m hearing is totally another language.

“We’ve had to learn the police lingo.  When we hear descriptions of either offenders or vehicles we write them down and keep an eye out,” said Mr Weatherall.

At this time of the night I’m already grateful for Mr Weatherall’s tip to wrap up warm as we shine the spotlights into every corner of the school grounds.

Safely back in the vehicle we increase speed as we head out to Bell Block where there have been a series of car break-ins known as “theft versus car”.  We do a tour of the industrial area searching for any “boy racers”.  After heavy rain and cold winds earlier in the day, the area is deserted.

At a steady 30km we crawl our way up and down residential streets in Bell Block searching for anything out of the ordinary all the time listening to the police radio to keep in touch with what is going on.

Suddenly a car whips through our view as we are approaching an intersection.  Within seconds we reach the intersection to see the car’s tail lights disappearing round the corner in the distance.  As we start to follow Constable Jones appears and follows the vehicle. We later find out that the car was wanted in relation to some car break-ins earlier in the night in the CBD.

As 1:00am rolls around the patrollers decide it’s time for a cuppa and swap drivers.  Back to the police station and time to check out the new lunchroom.

Constable Jones is back in also and explains some of his role as community patrol liaison officer.

“Essentially the police liaison role is to establish and to foster the relationship with the community patrol volunteers and the police.  It has been quite a difficult journey with many barriers that have had to be broken down.  We’ve established a great relationship now and it has been a worthwhile experience.”

“Their role, in a nutshell, is to act as the eyes and ears of the police. They go out into their own community acting as guardians.  We’ve got to ensure that they are adequately trained so that they are not putting themselves into situations that are above them.  At the end of the day they are not police.  They are not there to do the job of a policeman but are there to assist the police.”

“Together what we’ve got to do is reduce people becoming victims of crime by removing the opportunity.  A lot of offending is opportunist offending, like people leaving their cars unlocked in the driveway or valuables in plain sight.

If we can raise the communities’ awareness of how they can lessen the chances of them being a victim then that removes opportunity which in turn reduces the offending and that has a big flow on effect.”

Back on patrol again we head up the main street allowing me to see what normal Saturday morning behaviour is.  Cheers and thumbs up greet us as we drive back out to Bell Block via the beach car parks.  The only vehicles we find are some freedom campers now set up at Fitzroy car park.

Another tour of the industrial area and we once again crawl through the residential streets of Bell Block.  A couple are staggering down the street and Mr Weatherall pulls over to ask if they are OK.  “We want people to know that we’re there, that there are people looking out for them.  We are not there just to help the Police, although that is a major part of what we do.  Our motto is we are the eyes and ears of the police.  We are there to help anybody in distress, anybody that needs help and we are looking out for people walking home on their own.  It is very hard to know what you have deterred by driving along the street.  You don’t know who has seen you, who was going to do something that has decided not to.  To us, a quiet night is a successful night.”

Spotswood being my suburb, the patrollers decide to take me for an early morning tour.  As we pass my house I’m so tempted to yell “stop”.  My eyelids have gradually found themselves shutting on more than one occasion and home looks such a good option.

Mr Shute says that he starts to get a bit tired in the early hours but if there is something going on you just keep going.  Once home he doesn’t have a problem with sleeping.  “As soon as my head hits the pillow that’s it, the day’s over.  Doesn’t matter what time I go to bed I fall straight to sleep and my wife hates that.  If you can get at least 7 or 8 hours sleep you’re right for the next day.  Sometimes its two days later that it hits you a bit.”

It seems it hits everyone different with Mr Weatherall saying “On average it takes me two or three days just to regain that lost sleep, to get my body clock back.  What I find is the next day I am still awake at midnight – 1am because my body clock is saying ‘you’ve still got a few more hours work yet.”

Hitting the “hot spots” we find everything quiet and even though I’m a little disappointed it’s good to discover that Spotswood’s reputation is changing.

At 3:00am the patrollers decide to call it a night and does one more sweep up the main street to show me how many people are exiting the various pubs and clubs.  Offers of various amounts to be taxi are shouted at us as we head back towards the police station.

Mr Weatherall asks where my car is parked and dutifully pulls in front of it.  Saying goodnight I quite thankfully drive home to bed.  After only being asleep for, what I discover was, 15 minutes, the Spotswood College School alarms are ringing.  I sleepily wonder if we just missed something of importance as I sink back into a well-earned deep sleep.

Do you care about your community? 

If the answer is yes and you are interested in joining this group of unpaid professionals

please contact Jonathan Weatherall on 021 505 618 or home (06) 753 5533 email newplymouthcommunitypatrol@xtra.co.nz

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