A pair of volunteer sleuths motored quietly through an east Calabasas neighborhood, scanning well-kept yards for signs of trouble.
Suddenly, retiree Robert Gordon wheeled a U-turn. He had spotted something in the shade on a driveway. He braked in front of the house and his partner, 34-year-old meat cutter Keith Thomas, stepped out of the car and adjusted his city-provided uniform.
Sure enough. There--next to and under a parked Volvo--were the culprits: newspapers from the past three days. An open invitation for burglary.
"Anybody who sees this can tell that whoever lives here is out of town," Thomas said, tossing the papers out of sight near the porch. "If there are crooks in the neighborhood, you don't want them to know that."
Such is crime prevention on the sleepy streets of Calabasas.
Gordon and Thomas are part of a seven-person team that, starting this week, will patrol the town under the auspices of the Sheriff's Department in an attempt to make safe Calabasas even safer.
"Crime in Calabasas is almost nonexistent," said Sgt. Marty Dailey of the sheriff's Lost Hills/Malibu station. "We hope to keep the program pretty small and low-key."
Similar programs have sprung up in several Southern California communities in recent months. In Calabasas, volunteers armed with flashlights and cellular phones will cruise the city for two hours during the day and two hours at night.
At first, the duties of the volunteers will be limited to reporting graffiti, reporting suspicious activity to sheriff's deputies and making "vacation checks," but may eventually be expanded to writing parking citations and other tasks.
Purchase of the uniforms, phones, batteries and other equipment cost less than $3,000, said City Manager Charles Cate. The city also plans to buy a natural gas-powered car or van for the patrollers within several months.
Applicants were carefully screened to find volunteers such as Gordon, who spent 14 years as a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
"Doing this is a bit of nostalgia," Gordon said. "I like to keep my hand in the pie, and do something for my community."