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Citizens on patrol proposed in Hagerstown

August 26, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Police are looking for a few brave citizens willing to go out looking for crime rather than just reporting crime when it comes to them.

The premise of Citizens on Patrol, or COP, is to identify and train civilians who will patrol their neighborhoods in their own vehicles while keeping in contact by walkie-talkie or cellular telephone with police officers on patrol.

Fliers about the program - printed on bright red paper - are now circulating through Hagerstown with an explanation of how it works.

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"We're trying to copy an unbelievably effective program which has been in operation in Baltimore since 1989," said Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith.

A veteran of the Baltimore police force before coming to Hagerstown in 1999, Smith said there is starting to be some interest in the local neighborhoods of his adopted home.

Lt. Margaret Kline has taken the lead in establishing COP in Hagerstown, Smith said.

The program centers around a citizen/police patrol car, Smith said. "In Baltimore, we usually had a car donated by the local dealerships that was marked 'Citizens on Patrol.'"

That car - which is clearly marked with a magnetic sign - would be occupied by one on-duty police officer and one citizen, Smith said. Other citizens driving their own vehicles, also marked with COP signs, would patrol designated areas while keeping in touch with the lead COP car.

Foot patrol and bicycle police officers can also be coordinated into the COP program, according to the fliers.

"The key is how fast the response can be," Smith said. "The calls don't go through the central communication desk but rather they are between the officer and the citizens on patrol."

Smith said unnecessary delays can occur when calls come in through normal channels and are prioritized according to seriousness.

Some groups may have patrols out seven days/nights a week but most confine their patrols to two to four times a week. A COP volunteer would typically go out one night a month for two to four hours.

Historically, interest in the COP program comes when there is a community outcry about rising crime in a neighborhood, Smith said.

Anyone interested in the COP program must be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver's license, an insured automobile and a clean criminal record.

For more information call 301-739-8577, ext. 249.

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