In response to concerns of late-night crime downtown, police are recruiting concerned volunteers to patrol neighborhoods during weekends this spring.
To do so, the Bowling Green Police Division has resurrected its Citizens on Patrol program.
The program pairs University students and permanent residents to comb neighborhood streets on the east side of the city. The pairs will look for suspicious or criminal activity north of Wooster Street and east of Main Street.
“We’re marrying-up a local resident with a BGSU student to essentially be the eyes and ears of the Bowling Green Police Division,” said Sgt. Mark McDonough, Citizens on Patrol coordinator. “They’ll be serving as an extension of the police department and normally the people patrolling actually live in the areas they’re patrolling.”
Common nuisance reports in these areas concern loud noise, disorderly conduct, underage drinking, and vandalism to homes and businesses, he said.
All patrollers will work 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. shifts and will be armed with a flashlight and a two-way radio to relay any suspicious behavior to local police, McDonough said.
Citizens on Patrol was established in the spring of 2001 and in its first year, police saw a 14 percent decrease in reported crime in the 1st Ward, which consists of most of the downtown area and the University, McDonough said. The police discontinued the program in 2005, however, due to lack of public interest.
McDonough said support from the East Side Residential Neighborhood Group brought the program back from its seven-year hiatus when the coalition raised concerns to the current police chief this past June.
Rose Hess, of East Side, said a fellow group member asked the chief why it was discontinued and if it would still be a viable option for the future.
“We had concerns over land use, loud noise, vandalism and thefts,” Hess said.
Because a lack of interest put the program on hold, McDonough said police wanted to test the public’s response before deciding how many applicants to accept.
“We initially wanted to see what kind of response we were going to get,” McDonough said. “Right now I’m looking at about 30 applications, with a good mix of students and residents.”
Hess, who is volunteering this year with her husband, said she is unsure what kind of results the initiative will bring this time around. Nevertheless, she hopes the presence of authority figures, even just unarmed volunteers, will be enough to deter criminal activity.
“We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, but we’re hoping to see a decline in the number of arrests,” she said. “I think it’s easier to commit a [crime] when no one is around, so hopefully this will act as a sort of deterrent.”
Hess said she has seen many changes throughout her 45 years of living in the city and she believes the growing University population, combined with an overflow of students into the residential area, created a situation for increased local crime.
However, Hess said she doesn’t blame all students for the crimes committed in her neighborhood. In fact, she enjoys interacting with them.
“I got married and settled down here and it was kind of exciting watching it grow and change, but then it seemed like the University got too big for its own good and we got an overflow of people in the city and there would occasionally be trouble,” she said. “Ninety-eight percent of students are good people who know how to behave. We’re talking about a small number of people who don’t know how to be good neighbors.”
While preventing crime on city streets is Citizens on Patrol’s primary objective, it isn’t the only goal for the program, McDonough said. It was also designed to foster a better relationship between residents and students.
“We wanted them to be together to break down the barrier between townies and students,” he said. “We’re trying to get rid of the ‘us versus them’ mentality.”
Breaking down that barrier is a key component for a college town to survive, Hess said. A program like Citizens on Patrol is a good way to ensure it happens.
“I think the idea of having a student paired up with a townsperson is a great idea,” she said. “We like it here. The problems are manageable. We just need more communication between the townspeople and the students.”