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LAPD’s first ‘volunteer citizen patrol’ to hit San Fernando Valley streets to battle property crime

LAPD volunteer citizen patrol

LAPD Cmdr. Kris Pitcher, flanked by Capt. Brian Pratt and Councilman Mitch Englander, introduces members of the LAPD’s first “volunteer citizen patrol” at the department’s Devonshire station.

(Kate Mather / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles police on Thursday formally introduced the department’s first “volunteer citizen patrol,” a 15-person pilot program based in the San Fernando Valley that officials hope will eventually spread across the city.

The volunteers will not carry guns and won’t take enforcement action, Los Angeles Police Department officials said. Instead, they will drive two city cars -- complete with lights and a police badge printed on the side -- through neighborhoods, particularly those hit by property crimes.

If the volunteers see anything, they have radios to relay the information directly to police.

“They are trained to be our eyes and ears out there,” LAPD Capt. Brian Pratt said in front of the department’s Devonshire station, home to the pilot program.

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Councilman Mitch Englander said the program has been in the works for several years but had to go through “various bureaucratic channels” before it could launch. The volunteers -- all of whom live in neighborhoods patrolled by Devonshire officers -- underwent training that included officer safety, patrol techniques and defensive driving, officials said.

Pratt said the volunteers would serve as a “force multiplier” for the LAPD, bringing an extra presence to neighborhoods. 

“We’ll never have enough officers on the street, on every corner, in every community all the time,” Englander said.

The volunteer patrols come as the LAPD continues to battle rising crime across the city. Although the department has made progress driving down property crime, violent crime continues to hover at a double-digit increase from 2015.

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As of Saturday, violent crime had jumped 13.5% this year compared with the same time period in 2015, according to the LAPD’s citywide statistics. Property crime had decreased slightly -- by about 1.1% -- for an overall crime increase of nearly 2%.

Neighborhoods in the LAPD’s Devonshire division, where the volunteer unit will work, have seen drops in both violent and property crime this year. LAPD officials said the Devonshire volunteers will focus on property crimes, such as burglaries from homes or vehicles.

Cmdr. Kris Pitcher said LAPD brass has already discussed creating similar units in other divisions across the San Fernando Valley if the pilot project turns out to be successful.

Ten volunteers cracked jokes Thursday as they lined up in front of the Devonshire station, wearing crisp white shirts and navy baseball hats with the city’s seal. Their new ride was parked along the curb: a white sedan with “volunteer citizen patrol” printed along the side.

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A few of the volunteers said they had prior military experience, but aside from a former sheriff’s dispatcher, none had formally worked in law enforcement. Several have volunteered for the Devonshire station before, including a few who work a bike patrol.

The volunteers said they hoped the new patrols would make their neighborhoods safer, either by helping police make an arrest or by deterring crime before it happens.

“We want to catch somebody,” said Larry Belkin, one of the volunteers. “We want to be able to provide information to get a black-and-white to a particular area and take care of whatever the problem happens to be.”

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

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