Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Citizens on Patrol

So, when you’ve got more free time than good sense like I do, why not give it away to someone more deserving? Yes, why not indeed? I enjoy volunteering, as I have always celebrated my sense of community pride by doing my civic duty to deserving causes, but I’ve never actually taken any steps toward doing anything about it, at least not since I was in Boy Scouts. I did this or that in my hometown when I was younger, but it was more to help out my citizen-minded folks than it was to promote whatever cause they were involved with at the time. However, now that I live in this town (and have for five years), I’ve rather missed being in the community and helping with events and organizations just like the old days.

As it happened, chance knocked on my door; well, not literally. Chance dials the telephone... an old Hitchcock film perhaps.

Last week, we got a letter from a neighbor a few doors down who is also one of the code enforcers in the building department, asking for volunteers for a new program they are starting called PACE (Parks and Code Enforcement), basically, it combines my love of driving around for hours on end in a city-owned car, keeping an eye out for perps in the city parks and listening to a police scanner. It’s the closest I would ever like to being a cop, I guess.

Last night, they had the PACE introduction meeting where all of the details of the volunteer program was explained to the folks interested enough to show up, myself included. There were doughnuts. I ate two, and that was worth my hour and a half right there. Tomorrow I have to report to Human Resources to turn in my application—as if I’m actually applying for a job with the city—and then I get to take a drug test (oh no, I haven’t studied), which is nice because I haven’t relieved myself into anything smaller than a punch bowl in a couple of years and then visit the police department for something called a “Live Scan,” which reminds me of that computerized whole-body examination that KITT does on Knight Rider,—“I don’t see any vital signs Michael”—but I think it just involves fingerprints and some kind of world-wide data search on the much feared but respected Interpol databases. Probably.

In May 2003, good old George W. said: “We should continue to strengthen partnerships between citizens and local law enforcement and work to engage more volunteers in public safety and emergency preparedness.” What does that mean, exactly? It means that he doesn’t want to increase funding on the city level (after all, we’re too busy trying to give the Saudi and the Mexican governments that giggly feeling you get when you find a bucket of cash in the street—what me, iconoclast? No.), so let’s place responsibility in the hands of the common Joe, much like myself.

Plus, I get to take a defensive driving course and I get to operate a police radio. Sweet.

So, really, what is the position and why do I want to bother with it? Interestingly enough, it is an eyes and ears function of the city’s various law enforcement agencies, answerable to the Park Ranger and the Building Code Compliance Division but in conjunction with the police department, and the responsibilities include patrolling the 38 parks within the city and making note of any malfeasance and transgressions that might occur. As in any city, luscious green grass and the quiet solitude of the park will attract the seeded underbelly of society, looking for a place to sleep, do drugs and contemplate about the choices they’ve made in their lives while they study over all of their possessions which they are happy to note fit perfectly in a Wal-Mart shopping cart. According to the code enforcer at the meeting, most of them are drunk or on their way, high or on their way or mental impaired or clearly on their way, and it has been an under-the-wraps push in the city government to rid the streets of such “societal fringes” with any means possible.

Where I live in relation to all of this is remote, farther than any drugged out transient would ever want to push a shopping cart full of soda cans…uphill too, but it is rather unnerving to hear some of the stories of malady in my community and I want to help do something about it. Plus, did I mention that I get to use a police radio? No? Well, I do.

It sounds rather exciting. Next week, I start my two-week training program that will take me through first aid/CPR (which I haven’t been a card-carrying member of the Red Cross in perhaps 20 years), defensive driving, radio/tactical communications and enforcement. Make no mistake, I’m not volunteering to engage the perpetrators of any crime (so bring your heart down to a simmer, Mother); in fact, we’re strictly instructed not to get out of the truck under any circumstances. Our primary function is to observe criminal activity such as drug use, drinking in the park, graffiti and whatever nefarious activities that might occur in the park after dark and call it in on the radio. Simple but effective.

So, I get to make a difference, and it satisfies my pseudo-para-military/police fantasy of bringing justice to the streets.

Just like Shaft… maybe Batman. Okay, you’re right. I’m more like Maxwell Smart and this is going to end up like the denouement of “Police Academy 4” (if something as uncultured as “Police Academy 4” could enjoy the civilization of a denouement).

*If you live in my city and have a few hours a week to bust perps in the act (and you enjoy doing so), let me know and I’ll put you in contact with the right people to get you started too. I could use a partner. You just have to be over 18 and have a detectable pulse (and no convicted felonies, of course).

In other news, Elsa—for those of you burning candles at the local church in solemn prayer for her health—is feeling right as rain again. She’s back to barking and running around the yard like an idiot again. So I had to fill in the hole in the backyard and put away the feline adoption and rescue pamphlets; better luck next time.

Below is a family portrait, the only one we’ve been able to orchestrate where everyone is looking at the camera and has the appearance as if they actually want to be there. There’s no straining to hold onto one of the children and there’s no squinty eyes squeaking out tears of captivity under the harsh penalties of the lens. However, my counterfeit smile does give me the outward appearance of currently undergoing a prostrate exam, but it is a small price to pay for a fine and certainly frameable family photo. Enjoy.

1 comment:

BK said...

Can I send in tips to you about the park behind my house?


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