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Strategy: Voluntary Residential Patrols

Strategy Public housing administrators work with concerned residents, both adult and juvenile, to provide training and logistics for a . . .


Public housing administrators work with concerned residents, both adult and juvenile, to provide training and logistics for a voluntary neighborhood patrol.

Crime Problem Addressed

The volunteer patrol concept tends to inhibit almost all larcenies, burglaries, and premise robberies. Also, pressures are directed toward loiterers, trespassers, drug pushers, and troublemaking nonresidents. The voluntary patrols also tend to reduce the fear of all crime for housing residents and their neighbors.

Key Partnerships

Public housing management, residents, resident initiative groups, and law enforcement authorities are key partners. In some cases, housing authority proprietary or contractual security organizations may also participate in this effort.

In working to eliminate drug and prostitution markets from the street, patrols often use informational tactics against potential users and clients. They distribute brochures about their group and seek interviews with the media. This increased visibility virtually guarantees a more significant presence in their neighborhood. In working with police officers, some tenant patrols use video cameras. They pan the streets periodically, taking down the license tag numbers of persons in the drug/sex zones. After police assist in getting the addresses of the owners of the vehicles, a post card is forwarded to the owners.

In most communities, the patrols are fully staffed by volunteers. Usually the housing authority furnishes jackets, flashlights, and perhaps handcuffs. In other situations, unarmed officers are actually employed by the housing authority. In Santa Barbara, California, a Youth Bike Patrol was pioneered. The kids ride around, note what is going on, and report it to authorities. It really works well. Often the Bike Patrol members receive a T-shirt at the completion of their and crime prevention training.

Potential Obstacles

On occasion the police resist voluntary efforts. Some police administrators see these volunteers as vigilantes and not responsible citizens. Citing the fear of a volunteer being injured or killed, the police also question the motives of the volunteer groups. Quite often the police attitude is,"I'm the cop on this beat. I don't need or want any help." Yet this attitude also lowers citizen participation and increases the prevalence of crime. Research clearly indicates that violence by drug dealers against citizen patrols is rare. Volunteer groups should insist that all members work together in unit patrols and not go off on their own. Volunteer applicants who have aggressive or combative attitudes should be screened from these groups.

Signs of Success

Resident patrol members in New York City's public housing communities work to reduce vandalism, loitering, and more serious crime. They report loiterers and suspicious parties in hallways, lobbies, and elevators. The patrols have also included youth who serve as escorts to seniors traveling through the community. As of 1994, more than 15,000 resident volunteers participate. The housing authority reports that buildings with active patrols experience fewer crimes, including vandalism, and have increased social cohesion among residents.

Apply the Strategy

Saginaw, Michigan's resident patrol in public housing uses trained residents to assist police in identifying intruders and trespassers through portable radios and monitoring of the surveillance equipment stationed throughout the development.

From 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime: A Resource for Municipal Agencies and Community Groups

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