Roger Hansen was attaching to his vehicle a magnetic sign with the words “Piedmont Wycliffe Citizen Patrol” when his wife, Betty, noticed something unusual. A truck was parked far off the roadway on the grounds of Cottonwood Elementary School. Before Roger could fasten his seat belt, a 60PLUS ride-along with these veteran patrollers had stumbled onto its first perp.
Uh…not so fast.
“Hey, you guys can’t drive across the property like that!” joked Dale Robinson as the Hansen’s vehicle approached his own. Turns out that Robinson is a fellow patroller with the group that is an arm of the Piedmont Wycliffe Neighborhood Association. And it turns out that he, weed-wacker in hand and other tools at the ready, was merely doing a little geurilla gardening. “Just cleaning up a bit after the city,” Robinson explains. “I wish they’d let me show them how to make a park look nice,” he chuckles before returning to his volunteer chores.
Robinson was let off with a warning of the tongue-in-cheek variety.
The Hansens have been patrolling for over 15 years. Sure, they’ve had their share of excitement, usually minor and involving minors. But our travels this day through the seemingly endless cul de sacs of their West Omaha neighborhood yielded no reports and included only one more stop.
A neighbor, one previously unknown to the Hansens, flagged down the patrol vehicle. She introduced herself and described some upcoming travel plans. Could the Hansens inform the other patrollers to keep an eye on her home? Sure, but Betty’s gift for gab also kicked in. Before Roger put the SUV back in gear to continue our meanderings, Betty had charmed her newest friend into checking out the next patrol training session.
“You see how that works?” Betty muses. “Good neighbors—involved neighbors—make for safe neighborhoods.”
“The police can’t be everywhere at once,” says Roger, who is also the president of the Omaha Coalition of Citizen Patrols, “so citizen patrols can fill a valuable need. Our main role is to be an extra set of eyes and ears for the police department.”
The Coalition consists of the 35 patrols that operate across the community. All patrollers go through background checks and training that includes multiple Omaha Police Department officers advising learners at each session. Patrollers are also issued official identification lanyards that are to be worn whenever one is “on duty.”
The infamous George Zimmerman “Stand Your Ground” case brought unwanted—and often skewed or entirely misplaced—attention to the world of patrols. The Hansens are quick to remind the community that Zimmerman’s notoriety as a vigilante begs some clarification when it comes to the rules of the road when it comes to patrolling.
The four “Nevers” of Citizen Patrols:
- Never engage, only report. Patrols are non-confrontational and personal safety is topmost in everything they do. Team members are not to interact in any way with potential suspects or suspect vehicles.
- Never get out of your vehicle.
- Never carry a weapon, especially firearms.
- Never patrol solo.
Learn how to start your own citizen patrol through the Omaha Coalition of Citizen Patrols at omaha-occp.org.