To server and protect
By Rebecca Blithe
Tony Mayes is ready to roll in his bright yellow community patrol car. "It's an unusual little car, really good for observation," says Mr Mayes, a Mt Albert resident for 30 years who oversees a group of locals volunteering their Friday nights to help protect their suburb.
"It was an initiative through the residents' association," he says of the service, part of an organisation operating patrols throughout New Zealand.
"We had a visit from the local constable, Darren Calkin. I put my hand up to do it and, from that day, I became a community patrol officer."
Mt Albert has been in the news recently for crimes - big and small - though Mr Culkin says no single incident led to the patrol being set up.
Police recently wrapped up an investigation into a drug manufacturing operation headquartered in the suburb - protected by a locked grill and security cameras - underneath the carpark for the Video Ezy store on New North Rd. Methamphetamine was supplied to dealers from the address, reached from a side street.
At the lower end of the scale, The Aucklander revealed a rash of petty crimes such as thefts from cars and bag-snatching around Sandringham, Mt Eden, Kingsland, Balmoral and Eden Park in June.
Mr Mayes is one of 17 residents who take turns patrolling the Mt Albert neighbourhood on Friday nights from 10pm to 2pm, keeping an eye out for anything sinister and reporting back to police.
"You see some strange things at night - people walking dogs at midnight, kids on the streets. That extra hour is hard," says Mr Mayes of the graveyard shift.
"We get intelligence from police as to what has been happening and we work with Neighbourhood Support. So I complete a list of hotspots. We go street by street, we go through parks. After a while you develop a nose for it. You see people parked in odd places. Our car is quite bright, they tend to move on," says Mr Mayes who also takes care of the St Lukes anti-graffiti programme. "I get on my bike and go around and check it all out."
When I ask how the patrollers measure their success, he replies enthusiastically: "Do you mean have we had any busts? We're a deterrent," he says with a chuckle. "We send intelligence through to police and they'll say, 'Yep, that's a high five'."
Support from local businesses has been impressive. "We've been fortunate in Mt Albert because businesses have supported us with having a vehicle, with torches, cellphones, hi-vis jackets. The big torches are handy for lighting up parks."
Sal Rose, an Italian restaurant, supplies the volunteers with a pizza before they head out.
"Another business pays for our petrol. There was some talk of getting a uniform but we are part of the community so we don't want to be that regimented."
Mt Albert community constable Darren Calkin says Mr Mayes has been a significant part of the patrol service.
"Tony has been instrumental in getting the Mt Albert patrol up and running. His tireless energy and enthusiasm is greatly appreciated by myself, as with the entire Mt Albert Community Patrol."
He says high visibility has shown to reduce offending and the Mt Albert group is assisting in this endeavour.
"It allows like minded community members to be the eyes and ears of the Police. Obviously we cannot be everywhere at once so having this group established is extremely beneficial to the Mt Albert Community."
Mr Mayes, who also owns a car security business, says he'd like more volunteers to be able to operate the patrol more frequently. "I'd like to be able to build up to doing two nights a week, but at the moment the numbers don't really allow for any more."
To find out more about community patrols see: www.communitypatrols.org.nz
If you live in Mt Albert and would like to join Mr Mayes as a volunteer, phone him on 027 266 3750 or email firstname.lastname@example.org