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Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008 01:57 am

The force

Mahoney whips his neighborhoods in shape with new citizen patrol

Ald. Mark Mahoney says it looks like his Ward 6 citizen patrol is already doing some good.

Taking one of the first shifts last Friday night, Mahoney drove through neighborhoods that have been identified as problem areas, including sections of Spring Street, College Street, and Iles Park. In one instance, he says, a group of teens between the ages of 12 and 14 were riding their bicycles down the middle of Ninth Street. When they saw his car — with its blue-and-red "Neighborhood Watch: We Call Police" magnet on the side — they went back up into their yards.

"They are taking notice," Mahoney says, "and taking action to correct their problems."

That's the point, he says — to remind people that they're being watched and to possibly deter them from causing further problems in the area. The Ward 6 citizen patrol — initiated by Mahoney last week — puts pairs of concerned residents on the streets from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. to document everything from overflowing garbage and unkempt yards to possible drug houses and crimes.

Mahoney admits that there is some element of danger, because the patrol is clearly marked and visible, but stresses that the initiative is only a "watch," not a surveillance operation. He advises citizens to stay in their cars and to call police if they see something out of the ordinary. Mahoney also says he uses his discretion when signing up volunteers for the patrol — if they seem to have questionable motives, he'll run their names by the police department.

Enos Park's neighborhood association has been operating a similar program for the past few years, and executive director Marilyn Piland says it's been a huge success. Residents are not discouraged from getting involved in certain situations, she says, but it has never been an issue.

"We have a couple of guys who have no fear at all, and they'll walk up to anyone and do anything that's necessary for the situation," Piland says. "Most of us don't do that; most of us just call the police.

"It's very effective."

Bill Castor, president of the Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association, has been aware of the Enos Park program for some time and agrees that the Ward 6 citizen patrol could make a difference. He says his association has been trying to initiate change in the neighborhood for nearly 10 years and a citizen patrol might help.

"We need to have better law enforcement and a sense of community so people watch out for their neighbors and know what's going on in the neighborhood," Castor says.

Mahoney says he's disappointed with the city's lack of attention to his ward's older areas and hopes that "more eyes and ears on the streets" will encourage additional assistance with crime, housing issues, and infrastructure needs.

"It just comes down to giving citizens a way to be more proactive in dealing with problems," he says.a

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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