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Castro Community on Patrol Gives Time to Stop Crime

You may have seen their bright, orange reflector vests illuminated by the Castro’s streetlights in the night. Or perhaps they may have passed by you at a recent street festival, a calm presence ready to mobilize whenever needed.

Since the fall of 2006, Castro Community on Patrol (CCOP) has been patrolling the Castro’s streets in groups of three to four citizen volunteers with the primary aim of keeping people safe.

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“The way we say it to people is, ‘We’re looking for trouble,’” said Greg Carey, CCOP’s chief of patrol regarding the organization’s central aim. “We’re still primarily looking for crimes of violence. That could be an assault, that could be a robbery, that could be an argument, that could be a fist fight…So that’s our primary goal: to respond to things that are physically threatening to people. And then secondarily to that, we do property crimes—car break-ins, vandalism and so on. And always in conjunction with that is that we’re looking for folks that need medical attention.”

The organization’s inception in the fall of 2006 arose in reaction to a spate of violence in the Castro. “There were street robberies with associated sexual assault, so that got the people living in the neighborhood very concerned,” said Carey.

To address the violence, community members joined together with the Mayor’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and SF Safety Awareness for Everyone (SF SAFE) to establish CCOP. Today, CCOP is a program of SF SAFE, and our organization is proud to act as its nonprofit fiscal sponsor.

Aside from providing a visible safety presence and watching out for trouble, CCOP actively works to educate the public in a variety of ways—i.e., distributing whistles and nightclub/general safety lit and hosting free basic self-defense seminars—and also collaborates with a variety of like-minded organizations to keep abreast of the community’s needs.

“Our main purpose is to keep the Castro and the Duboce Triangle safer. That includes both criminal activities and medical emergencies that we come across,” said Carey. “Originally we only did the walking safety patrols—which we still do and is our primary focus—but we’ve added public education, which we do in several different formats, and we’ve added coordination of information across different groups that are related to safety.”

Most patrols go out in the evenings, but CCOP also provides support for daytime events such as Harvey Milk Day and numerous other gatherings in Harvey Milk and Jane Warner Plazas.

CCOP’s overriding message to community members, per its website, is to: “Take care of yourself; take care of your friends; and take care of your neighbors.”

If trouble arises, CCOP doesn’t detain suspects. “We work with Patrol Special or the police department if there is an apparent need for more than just reasoning with someone,” said Carey. “We work with the fire department in case of medical emergencies. We call ourselves ‘first observers’ rather than first responders. We’re still primarily there to bring in the professionals, police or fire, to deal with situations that are beyond just basic help.”

So what’s the most gratifying part of CCOP’s work? “The biggest stand-out is this: when we have a new patroller, usually on their first patrol out with us, members of the public come up and thank this person for something that they have not done yet. And that has been pretty consistent…that first or second time out, suddenly a member of the public is thanking us for our service.  People recognize us for what we do and are appreciative of the help and that is what keeps me to continue to be as involved as I am,” said Carey.

According to Carey, CCOP is always on the lookout for volunteers. “The more volunteers we have, the more often we can be out.” He emphasized that in the 12 years they’ve been patrolling, there’s never been an injury to one of their volunteers—and pointed to the training they provide, their teamwork in looking out for each other and how their orange reflector vests act as a crime deterrent.

Volunteers do one patrol a month—a time commitment of three hours. To sign up as a CCOP volunteer, click here.

To learn more about CCOP, check out their website or socialize with them on Twitter at @CastroPatrol or on Facebook on CCOP’s main page or at the Stop the Violence page.

– Kathy Chouteau