The neighborhood that patrols together stays together.
That’s how James A. Ward, volunteer commander of the Green Acres Citizen Patrol since 1992, accounts for the steep reduction in crime and a spike in neighborhood stability.
At least 115 volunteers patrol the slender Green Acres neighborhood that’s a half mile wide and a mile long just off 8 Mile Rd. and Livernois. They work on a carefully honed schedule seven days a week, come rain or shine. Each patroller does a three-hour shift one night a month. At least one car is out nightly, sometimes more. A whole platoon patrols on Halloween.
The patrollers ride in pairs and drive slow enough to record the license plate numbers of suspicious cars and eyeball a set of keys left hanging in the front door. They use CB radios to communicate with a base station in the neighborhood.
“When you know your neighborhood you watch out for everyone. You feel like you are a part of something that serves the common good,” Ward says.
Patrols are a big part of the common good that makes this neighborhood, peppered with both historic and contemporary homes, inviting. Detroit Curbed reports the median home price in Green Acres, even foreclosed homes, is now above $100,000.
“People shy away from doing misdeeds when they know somebody is watching. Every volunteer is an extra set of eyes and ears in their neighborhood,” says Danielle Woods, who serves in the office of the chief of Detroit police. She says the city has 33 active patrols.
Ward, who is 78 and a retired manager for Ford Motor Co., devotes almost all of his time to civic concerns. Once he got involved he made it a full-time job and ran it as a business with Excel spreadsheets, monthly meetings, volunteer objectives and more. He’s expanded his area of operation and is currently working to mentor fledgling patrol groups in the city.
Anyone on his email list knows he recruited volunteers to help the city of Detroit patrol downtown during the annual Freedom Festival Fireworks, Angels Night and other big events.
He sends volunteers door to door in Green Acres several times a year to recruit new patrollers, coordinates two parties a year and holds an annual meeting so Green Acres neighborhood patrollers get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company.
Ward also sends cards and financial gifts for births and deaths of community members and their immediate families. His team greets each new neighbor with a friendly hello and an invitation to patrol.
In the summer, patrollers wave to people mowing grass or hanging on the front porch.
It wasn’t always this way. Before the patrol started in 1986, prostitutes who hung outside the now demolished City Limits bar brought their clients into Green Acres for liaisons and left spent condoms and beer bottles on the street. Some were so bold they conducted their acts in people’s driveway and children witnessed it from bedroom windows.
To make matters worse, more than 130 homes were invaded by burglars each year. One year after the patrols began, the number dropped to just 39, a 70 percent reduction. It has fallen even lower in ensuing years, according to Ward.
Active volunteers maintain their watch even when they aren’t on the assigned three-hour shift one night a month.
Sandi Kirksey, a long-time volunteer and one of the founders of the patrol, sent a notice around the neighborhood about a young male claiming to be a Guardian Alarm representative. He rang a friend’s doorbell, pounded on her door and insisted on entering her house to service the alarm. When she refused he kicked a hole in her storm door window and cursed at her and her husband. She captured a picture of the fake technician and sent it to Sandi who circulated it. The police are searching for him.
Another long-time volunteer, Byna Camden, helped save a man’s life one night while patrolling. She saw him face down in the snow and called the base to get a police car. He was drunk and might have died on that zero degree night if he hadn’t been revived.
Patrollers also have made big difference in the pocket park inside the neighborhood. They observed a group of young men selling drugs inside the park on several succeeding evenings and alerted the police. They sent a gang squad who nabbed them.
On another day, patrollers saw thieves hot wiring a car parked on the street, took pictures of them and reported it to the 12th Precinct. The guys were caught within days.
Vigilant work helped revive two streets that had been the most troubled in the neighborhood. Riding by at a slow pace around and around the streets helped encourage the bad guys move on to a less watchful place.
“We have excellent relations with city council and the police department,” Ward says. “When we say ‘take action’ we get a response.”
Green Acres is a place where everyone knows your name and the patrollers make a difference. That’s boosted confidence and home prices in that neighborhood and built a close-knit community.
“We get to know one another. We are family,” Ward says.