Citizen Patrols Prowl Old Brooklyn Park

28 Residents Drive In 2-car Shifts, Seek To Thwart Crime, Drug Deals

February 10, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

Eric Vitek turned into the dark parking lot of the local playground and shined his spotlight at a tow truck hidden in the shadows.

Almost immediately, the truck sped off. "He most likely had a prostitutein there, because he's leaving," Vitek said, satisfied at the result.

He circled the parking lot again, high beams on, and checked out the rest of the area, from the graffiti-scarred refreshment stand to the bottle-strewn embankment. He shuddered at the broken glass that glittered under his light.

"At one point, I didn't care," said the 33-year-old founder of the Old Brooklyn Park Security Patrol. "Now, Ihave a 3-year-old who plays in that park. Once you have a family, itchanges you a whole lot."

Vitek's life certainly has changed since he started the patrol just before Halloween of last year. His weekends are spent either on patrol or manning the base station at his 8thAvenue home.

He also has spent more than $500 buying radios, flashlights and signs. Twenty-eight local residents are part of the program, but Vitek said it still is hard filling all the slots Friday and Saturday nights.

The idea for the patrol started after a meeting one day last year with police officers and the Old Brooklyn Park Improvement Association. The officers suggested some kind of neighborhood watch program.

Vitek, who already has his car stolen twice and hiscompany van broken into once, decided to take action. What he started, however, goes far beyond the typical neighborhood watch program.

Two cars patrol the neighborhood in shifts from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., every Friday and Saturday. They cruise a seemingly endless array of narrow alleys and dead-end streets in 3-square-mile community, borderedby Ritchie Highway, Belle Grove Road, 17th Avenue and the Baltimore City line.

Their cars are marked with signs, and the patrollers are in constant radio contact with four base stations throughout the community. The people operating the base station call the police if necessary.

It was the security patrol that discovered a 150-gallon oil leak from a home two weeks ago on 6th Avenue.

Patrol members also have found the doors to the Brooklyn Park Elementary School open onnumerous occasions, have broken up drug deals and are actively trying to run prostitutes that work Ritchie Highway out of the area.

They report the mundane -- cars blocking alleys and open shed doors -- and the dramatic.

On their first night of patrol, a member got outof his car -- something that is rarely allowed -- and ran into a gang of 30 area youths, known locally as the "Raiders."

Some of the kids stole the man's van and roughed him up. County police responded with numerous cars and a helicopter. The security patrol also went outin force, intending to send a message that they were not going to beintimidated.

Since then, Vitek said, the youths have been tempered, rarely going out in large groups. But they do watch the security patrol by keeping track of rendezvous points and taunting members.

Break-ins and vandalism continue to harass the community. The flashing lights were even stolen off a county police car parked in the area and a radio taken out of another.

But Vitek and his patrol membersknow where the youths gather for parties and frequently drive by thehomes.

On Friday, youths were starting to gather outside one "trouble house" when Vitek drove by. The kids saw the marked car, and thehouse was quiet the rest of the night.

More activity occurred later in the evening, on patrol with Rick Schulze and David Thornhill.

Reports came in of a domestic fight -- a woman ran screaming by Vitek's home with a red minivan following. Schulze, who is treasurer forthe Old Brooklyn Park Improvement Association, tried to find the van, but was unsuccessful.

Later, Schulze passed two cars pulled overon the side of the road, with one passenger leaning out as if he were throwing up. Schulze slowed and asked if they needed help. They said no, but Schulze had the base station call police anyway.

A patrol car showed up moments later, but the people already were gone.

But the patrol provides more than security. It also helps members learn more about their community -- both its problems and its good points, some they never thought existed.

"I have lived in this neighborhood all of my life," Schulze said. "And when I went out the first week, I was finding things that I didn't even know were here."

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