Citizen cops patrol the streets

Midday Wednesday Jack Anderson and Gloria Fitzgerald report for duty. After checking in with the patrol sergeant about any recent happenings of which they should be aware, they head to their patrol car.

Fitzgerald rifles through a small stack of vacation check request forms and sorts them by location within the city.

“Want to check us in?” Anderson asks as he starts the vehicle.

After calling in to I-COM, reporting their call signs and the start time of their patrol, these two Citizens on Patrol are on their way.

Anderson and Fitzgerald are two of fewer than a dozen volunteers that currently make up the Oak Harbor Citizens on Patrol.

The Oak Harbor Police Department has had a Citizens on Patrol unit since 1993. Like countless others that have sprouted up across the country, the Oak Harbor Citizens on Patrol was formed with the intention of adding sets of eyes and ears to the department.

“There’s only so much the officers can do with all that goes on,” Anderson said.

Police Lt. John Dyer said that a major accident or a domestic violence call can be enough to take officers away from regular patrols.

“The police department is only as strong as the support it gets from the community,” Dyer said. “The Citizens on Patrol is a very visible showing of that support and they help us out greatly with our patrols.”

You’ll see the citizens patrolling around on an almost daily basis, and during the holidays the shifts become more frequent.

“Whenever the kids are out a lot,” Fitzgerald said.

Citizens on Patrol units were born from projects like Crime Stoppers and National Night Out, Anderson said.

“Who knows what goes on better in an area than the people who live in the neighborhood?” he said. “Being aware of and watching little things really adds up and helps.”

As they drive between the vacation checks they keep their eyes peeled, looking around for anything out of the norm that might signal bad news.

At each house, Anderson checks with Fitzgerald for any mention about dogs and other notables before exiting the vehicle and doing a walk-around of each home.

“All secure,” he says upon returning.

The citizens patrol within the Oak Harbor city limits. They check houses with 30-day vacation notices. They patrol parking lots, parks, the marina, basically anywhere within the city. They watch over what Anderson said everyone should watch over.

“Everybody has a responsibility of awareness of their neighbors and neighborhoods,” he said. “Neighbors should help neighbors, and let each other know when they’re going out of town so they can keep an eye out for each other.”

They check that all the cars in handicap parking spaces are there legally and steer people clear of parking in the fire lanes.

“We all have our places that we like to go so it’s not easy to predict where we’ll be,” Anderson said. “We catch a lot of people that way.”

During warmer months they’ll help enforce the city’s sign ordinance and pick up garage and yard sale signs that are illegally posted.

Citizens on Patrol are there for the police, to help the police.

“We carry no weapons except a flashlight and a radio,” Anderson said, jokingly adding that at least it’s a big flashlight.

But the simple act of being there can be a crime deterrent.

“Sometimes you just have to raise the mic to your face and pretend to call it in and that’s enough to make someone stop whatever they were doing,” Anderson said.

And the only lead foot these patrollers have is the one that gives them a boost to merge into traffic.

The citizen patrollers receive three phases of training that cover everything from proper radio communication to suspect identification and police protocol.

While Anderson’s 20 years of military experience fit perfectly with understanding procedure and protocol, he said he wants people from all walks of life to feel comfortable with joining the citizen force.

“We want to take back our neighborhoods and not just wait until there’s crack dealers moving in,” Anderson said.

Right now the patrol schedule has plenty of blanks on it as there aren’t enough members to patrol as often as Anderson and other Citizens on Patrol members would like. So now there’s a big recruiting drive to get more people to join the citizen patrol ranks. The previous minimum age requirement of 40 has been dropped to age 26.

The citizen patrol has meetings the first Tuesday of each month to get everyone up to speed on procedures, new happenings and to talk about lessons learned on patrols that month.

“The time committment is really minimal,” Anderson said. “And if we get more members we can add patrols without having to require more time from everyone.”

Anderson, a downtown Oak Harbor resident, is currently the Citizens on Patrol captain. He moved to Whidbey in 1974 and since then, he said he’s witnessed quite the population boom.

“I’m interested in not only my own security but the security of Oak Harbor,” Anderson said. “A lot of people complain about the vandalism, speeding, break-ins and more that happens as the city grows, but all it takes is one more set of eyes out there to make crime diminish greatly.”

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