October 1982: Civilian Crime Fighters on Patrol

October 28, 1982
By Stanley Asimov

My wife and I took a drive around our neighborhood the other night – on patrol.

Armed with a CB radio and a logbook to record anything that looked suspicious, we drove at 10 MPH up and down the streets of our community. Also on patrol that night were Gil and Vin and others friends from block parties, the community pool and neighborhood gatherings.

It was as if Long Island had replaced the PTA and school board meetings of our youth with its middle aged counterpart – the neighborhood civilian patrol.

Ruth and I live in the Roslyn Country Club community, which consists of almost 700 homes built 30 years ago by Abraham and William Levitt. We arrived there in 1965 after living nine years in Farmingdale. Aside from voting in school and library elections, we have never been too active in community affairs.

But I remember going to a meeting of the Roslyn Country Club Civic Association about five years ago when the issue of “safety” came up. There had been some burglaries in the community, and several residents had circulated a petition calling for the civic association to hire a private security organization. The proposal was voted down after opponents argued that burglaries have on occasion been committed by the low-salaried employees of the security organizations themselves.

The burglaries and, in some cases, robberies in my community and neighboring communities continued. Ruth and I have never been security conscious and, in truth, have never been burglarized. But the neighborhood concern began to infect us. About three years ago, we began to lock our doors when we left the house. And about two years ago, we installed a burglar alarm.

Our transition from being just concerned with our home to being concerned about our neighbors’ homes began last spring in typical suburban fashion – with the energy of one person. Paula Broxmeyer, a neighbor whom we have never met, was the victim of a crime. She decided to do something about it. She persuaded several friends to go with her to the civic association. Within weeks, the community was receiving letters from Paula – the new chairperson of the association’s
health and safety committee.

Her proposal was similar to what many communities have instituted in the past few years – the private neighborhood patrol. She asked for volunteers. Wrote Paula later: “It upsets me very much when I mention to people outside the area what we intend to do. Their answer is always the same: ‘You’ve got to be kidding. Have a volunteer patrol in Roslyn? They’d rather pay than patrol.’ We’ve found the total opposite.”

In fact, about 1,000 residents signed up. Enough to divide the community into a number of sectors so that you only have a small section to patrol. Enough so that the patrols can be scheduled virtually 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Enough to make you comfortable if you take part and uncomfortable if you don’t.

So there we were the other night in the parking lot of the Roslyn Country Club. One team of cars completing their tours, and the next team ready to begin. We transferred the CB radios and logwooks.

For the next three hours, Ruth and I were on patrol. On occasion, we would talk to our fellow patrol members: “Car 11, this is Car 8. How are you doing?” And regularly, we would check in with the “base”
— the dispatcher of Albertson Taxi. The owner had volunteered his organization to assist the association.

Our most exciting moment came when we saw an old battered white van filled with cardboard boxes parked in our patrol area. We conscientiously recorded its license number. About 20 minutes later, we saw some friends, a man and a woman, walking. We stopped for a few moments and chatted with them. They had been on patrol the week before, and the man said their tour was equally quiet. “The most suspicious thing,” the man said,” was when we saw an old battered white van parked in the area. It had cardboard boxes in it.”

We listened to the radio. We listened to some uninhibited chatter on other CB channels. And we looked at the homes of our neighbors – pleased that so many had their houses lit brightly, concerned that some houses were dark. Our job wasn’t to stop anyone or get involved in any way. Rather, if we saw anything that seemed out of the ordinary, our responsibility was to call the “base,” which in turn would call the police.

Frankly, patrolling is a bore. And we were glad it was a bore. We weren’t eager to find excitement. We were content to know that no one was burglarizing our home or the homes of our neighbors.

The return of the death penalty or the rantings of politicians seeking to be elected on the “crime” issue will not do anything to make our lives safer. But thanks to Paula Broxmeyer and 1,000 others, the residents in the Roslyn Country Club area know that someone is watching over them – their neighbors.

Stanley Asimov is Newsday’s vice president for development.

Newsday, October 28, 1982