Keeping Watch Over The Community
Neighborhood Observation Patrol Puts Extra Eyes And Ears On The Street
If you have ever seen a white Chevrolet Caprice police cruiser with a SCCAT (Stevens County Citizens Action Team) logo on the door slowly drive down your street, then you have seen the Neighborhood Observation Patrol (NOP) hard at work. Look closely, and you will see “Neighborhood Patrol” on the rear fenders and trunk, so there is no mistaking them!
NOP is a group of trained volunteers sponsored by “SCCAT,” Stevens County Community Action Team, who patrol streets in our neighborhood to spot problems and report these incidents to the Sheriff’s Office or other appropriate authority. Other “SCCAT” programs include the COP SHOP and the Red Jackets, a school assistance program featuring observation of school activities.
“NOP” stands for “Neighborhood Observation Patrol,” but some joke that it means Nosy Old People,” chuckled David Ellen IV, a NOP volunteer. “NOP provides eyes and ears for the County Sheriff. Our job is to see and be seen,” he continued. “People are less likely to misbehave if they think they might be watched. We try to make personal contact with people we see on our route to let them know what we are doing. People are very supportive of our role,” he added.
Ellen, who retired after 38 years with the US Forest Service, became a NOP volunteer in early 2011. He and his wife relocated to Suncrest in 2003 after he retired. “I got involved because I wanted to give back to my community,” Ellen said. “I’m also very concerned that we are more vulnerable to crime because people are desperate in this economy, and the Sheriff cannot cover the area adequately because of budget cuts,” he explained.
NOP volunteers do not carry weapons, and they are not authorized to intervene in any threatening situation or take any action other than reporting the incident or calling the Sheriff’s Department. Their primary job is to observe, since just having the presence of additional patrol vehicles in the community can help prevent a crime from happening, or stop one in progress. “We are NOT to intervene in any way, unless we can help someone in trouble,” Ellen stressed. “We are not armed, and there will be no tragic events such as the George Zimmerman/Travon Martin case in Florida,” he noted.
So what exactly does a NOP volunteer do? What are their responsibilities? Volunteers make random patrols of the neighborhood and perform tasks at the request of the Sheriff, such as notifying residents of problems that might affect them. For example, the Sheriff asked NOP volunteers to canvas neighborhoods recently where feral dogs were attacking.
NOP also takes note of vehicles that are parked in unusual or suspicious places or groups of people gathering where they should not be. “Sometimes when we drive by, people congregated in an unusual place will disperse soon after,” Ellen commented. Noting other activities he has been involved in, Ellen said “We patrolled an area where complaints of obnoxious driving were reported, and we also assisted with the return of an escaped horse to its rightful place.”
“We are required to have two trained volunteers in the car when we patrol,” Ellen explained. “We keep track of our location and check in with the Sheriff’s Dispatcher hourly. Most of our patrols are two hours. We communicate with the Sheriff’s Dispatcher with our own cell phones. We do have a two-way radio in the patrol car and we use it mainly to monitor activity. We can use it to call the Dispatcher when we are out of cell phone range,” he continued.
NOP patrols from the Spokane County line to the Red Lake area past TumTum and surrounding neighborhoods, usually not farther than five miles from SR 291. Patrols are completely random. There is no special day or time of day, and there is no special route. “We try to cover every area that we can in the time available to us. We pay special attention to the Sheriff’s Report in the Outpost, and try to hit all areas where a burglary or similar problem has occurred. If we see a crime in progress, we report it immediately, but we do not take any action,” Ellen explained.
What are the requirements to be a volunteer? Drivers must have undergone a Defensive Driver course. Everyone must go on a checkout ride with the program’s founder, Leo Richie, a retired State Patrol Officer. There are no special requirements, except volunteers who aren’t able to drive because of a medical or other reason are not allowed behind the wheel. Ellen said the organization looks for volunteers who demonstrate a willingness to undertake the required training and to devote personal time to patrols. “We want people who do not have an aggressive or confrontational nature,” he pointed out.
Citizens can request a drive-by of their residence if they plan to be away, and NOP will try to check the property as often as they can. They are short on trained volunteers, but they do the best they can with their limited resources. People are also encouraged to report suspicious behavior or recent problems, such as prowlers, malicious mischief, burglary, paint ball vandalism, illegal or unsafe driving or similar occurrences.
To have your neighborhood patrolled, or to discuss other problems, call NOP at 509-468-7507, Monday through Friday, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.