There has been a great deal written about what a neighborhood watch is. There is much written on how to create one. But now for the first time, let’s look in detail at how to do the patrol safely.
An incident or a string of incidents has created a call to action in your neighborhood. Before you know it, Whats App groups are being formed and you are scheduled to do your first patrol. Put on your cape and don’t forget your mask; your super-sleuthing days have begun.
Preparation is Key
“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” ― Robert Schuller.
Preparation for the patrol is as important as the patrol itself. This is especially important in neighborhoods where there is a high crime risk.
Consider the following scenario:
It’s a quiet and warm evening and you are coming to the end of an uneventful drive through the suburb. Turning a corner, you start heading for home, suddenly a movement catches your eye.
You turn towards the house on your right. You know; the one with the annoying couple that’s always trying to get you to join a new multi-level marketing scheme promising a superior lifestyle for more points. You turn your spotlight in the direction of the movement, just in time to see a tall thin male dressed in dark clothing leaping out of a window.
Your Heart Skips a Beat
It looks as if he has a laptop bag over his shoulder and he immediately starts to run in the direction of the suburb’s park area. Naturally your heart skips a beat and your body kicks in the ancient fight-flight-freeze process that has kept your family alive since your ancestors foraged in grasslands and “ook” was an entire sentence.
Your hands start to shake and fine motor skills, like finding a number on a cell phone, are discarded in favor of gross motor skills, like running or saying “uhgg” (caveman for “oh goodness, there’s a guy running over there with something on his back”). For a second your mind goes blank before you engage the gear and start to call for help.
Let’s check a few items:
- Do you know where your flashlight is, or is it at the back of the glove compartment after you used it to change a flat tire one evening.
- Will your flashlight work, or has the battery run down during the patrol?
- Do you need to dig your phone out of your pocket, or scramble in the dark for your two-way radio?
It’s at this moment that preparation will determine your success and your safety.
Principle No. 1 For Safe Patrolling: Prepare For Success Under Duress.
Prepare Your Equipment
The answers to these questions are all answered during the preparation phase of the patrol. The goal is to set your gear up so that when the adrenaline is pumping and your inner caveman is running the show, you are functional and effective. Start by checking any equipment that is battery operated. This includes your flashlight, cell phone and two-way radio (if you have such a network).
If you live in a part of the world where it is necessary to be armed, then give your firearm a check. Give the magazine a tap and check that the firearm is in the appropriate carry condition. Secure it to your body. You can’t have your weapon sliding around the vehicle because you suddenly slammed on brakes.
It should be noted that some schemes insist that patrollers are unarmed. After all, you are supposed to be on “eyes, ears and call for help” duty and not “chase, apprehend and interrogate” duty.
Next, test any other additional equipment. Some neighborhood schemes use a flashing amber light mounted to the roof of the car to maximize visibility. If this is the case, your cars’ auxiliary charger needs to be working.
There are times when patrollers need to assist with non-security related emergencies such as vehicle accidents or helping old Mr. Jones jump-start his Delta 88 Oldsmobile. A reflector vest and headlamp are indispensable tools for these occasions.
First Aid Kit
Your car should also contain a first aid kit. You may not be able to do much medically, but silicone gloves will allow you to assist medical personnel without facing the danger of bloodborne diseases.
Ensure that you have some form of legal identification on your person. If you are rendered unconscious in some form of emergency, it’s essential that first responders can identify who you are.
Last of all; if you are not armed, some form of self-defense tool is necessary so secure a pepper spray to your waste or vehicle compartment (click here to learn about using pepper spray). Mightier than the pepper spray, a pen and notepad will assist you in note-taking. Yes, you are a busy person and fine details may well slip your mind.
Where Is Everything Located?
Now decide where the kit is going in the car. The rule is to securely place the gear in the same place every time. That way when the brain clicks into crisis mode, it’s easy to find what you need. If are going to panic, be a well prepared “panicker”.
Don’t leave your paraphernalia on the passenger seat. Each piece of equipment needs to be in a secure location rather than somewhere in the dark on the floor of the car. If your cell phone is your primary method of communication, then pre-program critical numbers in a speed dial or favorites list. If you are going to use a push to talk App, then have the App open and the appropriate group on. Once you are ready, it’s time to turn on the ignition key and leave the Batcave.
Planning Your Route; Patrolling With Purpose
As opposed to the drive around aimlessly without any plan method; route planning is an integral part of the success of the patrol. Your route should fit into the security plan of your scheme. Perhaps it’s going to cover a crime hotspot, or a group of vulnerable houses.
The route needs to have a purpose. A route means that everyone knows more or less where you are during the patrol. This adds an additional layer of safety to your patrol. In some instances, you may want to follow an exact route, but it’s good to have some flexibility. Predictable routes create windows of opportunity for bad guys and boredom for patrollers.
Plan Using A Map
The plan starts with a map of the suburb which should be constructed by the coordinators of the scheme. The map should be overlaid with crime locations, incident times, common criminal entry points and vulnerable points of interest.
This can be done on computer by a process called GIS (Geographic Information Systems). Now don’t go all caveman and be scared off by this term. A GIS map can easily be constructed on free applications like Google Maps or Google Earth.
Once the map is created, it’s easy to see where your problem areas are and conduct some proper planning. At the end of the process, a patrol roster should be issued. For example, Jimmy is patrolling from 18h00 to 19h00 on sector 1 of the map, Dave from 19h00 to 20h00 on sector 2 and so on.
Think Your Route Through
Think your route through. If you want to learn the details of an area, tear yourself away from the shiny Netflix box for an hour, and take a walk on a Saturday afternoon. This will give you intimate knowledge of the suburb. In many cases it’s the same process that a house breaker uses to find his target. Alternatively, internet tools like Google Maps and street view can also be used. Start to activate your security brain by using a questioning process:
- Where are the vulnerable homes on the route? Jenny the underpaid IT teacher who knows lots about GIS, has no burglar bars on her windows!
- Where are potential points of danger? Maybe it’s a bottle store that gets busy in the evening; or an intersection where you are going to be forced to stop and wait for traffic.
These spots will need additional vigilance before you arrive at the location. Where are the darkest areas on the route; or the narrow streets that don’t offer you a left or right turn if you feel you are in danger?
Now with your security gear engaged, lets get on with the patrol.
You cannot react to danger if you cannot perceive danger. Situational Awareness will be covered in detail in another article, however for purposes of your patrol,
Principle No. 2: Use Your Five Senses to Identify Features That Are Out of Place in the Environment.
You scan the environment by looking, listening, feeling and smelling for something that is out of place (apart from a good cup of coffee, give the sense of taste a break for now). Your situational awareness may detect a vehicle that is driving unnaturally slowly or too fast.
Perhaps it’s parked in a strange place. It could be the way someone walks through a neighborhood, or perhaps there’s two people who don’t seem to be walking with any purpose. Maybe it’s an object like a dustbin that has been propped against a wall so it could be used as a step ladder. Whatever it is, let your senses draw you to anomalies on the route.
Observe and Report
Once you spot something that stands out, your job is to observe and report what you have detected from a safe distance.
Your vehicle lights, mirrors and flashlight will assist to enhance your sense of sight. In the instance of a two-person patrol, the driver can take care of the driving space, while the crew in the passenger seat can give extra attention to the patrol area on the passenger side of the car.
Weather permitting, it’s good to keep a window open or partially open. This allows sounds from the environment to filter into the vehicle. Sounds of shouting, alarms ringing, or rapid footsteps should draw your attention. The open window also gives you access to the smell of smoke; a valuable warning sign in the case of house fire.
Principle No. 3 For Safe Patrolling: Movement Creates Safety.
It’s far more difficult to attack a moving target than a stationary target. There are places during the patrol where you are going to have to come to a stop. These are the times of highest risk.
Plan for these places by making a conscious effort to increase your situational awareness. Scan the area before you arrive at a stop street or traffic light. Make sure you have checked the areas to your left and right. Dark zones need extra care. A cul de sac or a place where you are forced to execute a 3-point turn can be especially tricky. A complicated driving manoeuvre is going to take your attention away from scanning the area. These risky places should form part of your route planning.
Driving speed can vary. Generally slower speeds allow you to scan the environment in greater detail, however there might be times when you want to quickly double back and loop a block to check that someone wasn’t waiting for you to drive past so that they can start tampering with the door of a vehicle parked on the street.
Calling for help
Principle No. 4 for Safe Patrolling: When You Call For Help, Location, Location, Location.
The primary tasks of a neighborhood watch are to create a presence in the suburb and to provide eyes and ears support for policing and security services. The idea is to stay away from danger and to call in suspicious and criminal activity. However, since you are on the street, it’s possible that something can happen. Be it on the cell phone or 2-way radio; when people are facing danger or are in shock, it is common for them to report what is happening, forgetting to say where they are.
This happens to security personnel and civilians alike. A typical example is, “I need help. I just saw a head on collision. Lots of people hurt”. With this message first responders know what the emergency is, but don’t know where to find you. An alternative would be “Corner 6th and 14th, serious vehicle accident, I need assistance”. Even if communications are cut at this point; people know your location and can send help. You can always add details or new locations at a later point.
One way to resolve this situation is through a process of scenario planning. Make a list of possible emergency scenarios that can take place and develop a response to those situations. Specialist military and police units do this all the time. When the moment of crisis develops, they have already developed a trained response, this is what gives them the upper hand against the bad guys. What would you do if:
- You come across a serious motor vehicle accident at a busy intersection?
- You turn the corner and see an armed robbery in progress and one of the assailants looks directly at you?
- Your car breaks down during the patrol in the darkest part of the suburb?
The scenarios are endless. Don’t be afraid to confront the questions. It’s worth developing a network of experts that can help you answer these questions. Here are two framework statements that can help you solve the scenarios:
- Position yourself in the place that will facilitate the highest degree of safety for that scenario.
- Call for help providing your location and the nature of the emergency.
Lastly, the patrol is not over until your vehicle is locked away and you are safely indoors. It’s possible that while you were being the suburb’s caped crusader; your house became the target. Military units that return to their base after a long foot patrol will often use specific techniques to ensure that they don’t walk into an ambush just as they are ready to drop their kit and brew up a cup of something warm.
Approach your home as if it is the first time you are seeing the property. It’s predictable for you to drive directly home, park your car, drag your kit out as you berate the dog for leaping in the car. Even if he uses his tongue to communicate his undying affection for you!
Instead break the routine by creating variations of arriving home.
- Use Principle 2 and pass by the house, do a turn around the block and listen for suspicious sounds.
- Remember Principle 3; once you have parked your car, you are vulnerable. You need to get out as quickly possible.
Because you used Principle 1; your kit and house keys are quick to access, and you are on the move to the appropriate door. Not much you can do about the dog though! You can hang up the super hero kit for the night or day only once you have established the house is safe and you are locked indoors.