Citizen patrols considered to curb vandals

Looking behind the scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Mortgaging the notebook while wondering what the state will steal next in its never-ending efforts to appear to balance the budget ... Fortunately, the state can never make off with Auburn’s zeal to help each citizen enjoy what passes for the good life. And among those good things are the great benefits one receives from attending each Tuesday morning’s Meddlers meeting. For example, there are those days where ideas are tossed around at a rate almost equal to the skyrocketing hike in the national unemployment rate. In an era where not only a good idea, but even a new idea, is greeted with about the same amount of welcome as an illegitimate child at a family picnic, the Meddlers may be the last bastion of what the thought and debate processes are supposed to be about. For example: It was reported last Tuesday that vandals targeted two parks of the Auburn Recreation District. Seems that Regional Park served as some sort of giant Etch-a-Sketch for taggers, while at Recreational Park, the gymnasium was bludgeoned and burgled. Add to that other recent vandalism events such as the Clock Tower and the theater marquee, and it is easily understood why the bulk of the local citizenry has taken umbrage over these particular vermin. As usual, the Auburn Police Department’s new captain, John Ruffcorn, was in attendance, so taking advantage of the situation, a somewhat acerbic scribe noisily posed the question of just what the local constabulary is doing lately to halt these particularly distasteful crimes. At first, Ruffcorn rightfully defended his overworked and under-staffed department, then got to specifics. “Truth is,” he claimed. “we can’t hire enough (officers) to take care of this problem.” That’s not rhetoric. These days, vandals are our domestic terrorists. Thanks mostly to lax parenting, some kids (vandals mostly are of the youthful thug-types), can be out of doors in the wee small hours without explanation. And at that time of the night, there’s very little constructive activity available to these misguided “yutes.” That’s when the ideas began flowing. Former supervisor Harriet White suggested some sort of organized response, which quickly led other Meddlers to talk about some sort of citizens patrol. Now once upon a time, most villages, including Auburn, had that sort of thing, only to have misguided police unions successfully use the court process to halt them. Ostensibly the reason was because common folk were taking jobs from union membership. But nowadays, what with police ranks decimated by needed budget cuts, the cops can use all the help they can get — every little bit will help. Bill Radakovitz, city councilman Dr. Bill Kirby, Monroe DeJarnette and others all offered variations on the citizen patrol theme, prompting Ruffcorn to cite such efforts at his previous gig at Riverside, then to declare, “I firmly believe in citizen patrols which are properly managed.” There’s the key phrase: properly managed. Several Meddlers had either anecdotal or hard-drive recall of some unsavory events performed by such patrols, who eventually began emulating vigilante groups. So if APD does go to a citizen or volunteer overnight patrol, properly managed is just what they have to be. Preferably, such patrols should serve as nothing more than eyes and ears of the beleaguered PD. What with all of the electronic communication toys available at present, such a patrol unit would be a formidable part of the local police effort. Face it — people have become extremely weary of watching their tax-supported buildings and equipment being wantonly destroyed, and a business or private property owner doesn’t have that many discretionary dollars these days to constantly repair and replace destroyed valuables. Finally, we must report on the best idea of the day. It came from former councilman and current planning commissioner, Bob Snyder. Recalling that a recent Meddlers visit by the Lego whiz kids produced an idea from them to install mini-cameras in the adjacent wild lands, then beam those pictures as screen savers to provide a much-needed fire watch. Snyder’s version calls for those cameras, powered by solar panels, to be posted about the village — also as screen savers. “That way,” he said,”people could watch on their computers and if they saw something out of the ordinary, especially overnight, they could call the police.” Ruffcorn said the city was already judiciously and quietly using some cameras, but all those extra eyes can only be beneficial. No doubt, most of us agree something has to be done, and it’s good that so many ideas are available. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs Sundays. You can reach him at