WHAKATANE police have a secret weapon on their side when it comes to spotting potential trouble in the town.
Senior Sergeant Mark van der Kley says Whakatane Community Patrol, a group of nearly 40 volunteers that patrol the region night and day, are an extra set of eyes and ears that assist the police in keeping the community safe.
Community Patrol chairman David Henson, who oversees and co-ordinates the group’s activities, says patrols operate for several hours on most days, and during two or three nights each week.
“Most of our members have retired from fulltime work. They have a bit of time available now, and they’re all people who want to do their bit for the community,” David says.
Whakatane Community Patrol had its beginnings in 1992 when businessmen John Renshaw, Peter Patterson and Colin Eagles, frustrated by increasing levels of graffiti and vandalism in The Strand, formed a group known as The Night Owls.
Initially providing patrols of the central business district, the number of volunteers grew, and the group was eventually renamed Whakatane Community Patrol when a nationwide body was formed, amalgamating all voluntary community patrol groups throughout the country.
There are now more than 150 groups, nationally, with more than 5000 volunteer patrollers.
David co-ordinates all patrols from his home office. “We’re always in touch with the police before a patrol, during patrols, and afterwards,” he says.
“We stay in radio contact and they always know where we are.”
He says voluntary patrollers work closely with the police with the aim of building safer communities.
“We don’t have the powers of the police of course, but we can immediately report any suspicious behaviour or trouble.”
Patrollers are also made aware of wanted or missing people. They can help keep track of offenders fleeing a scene or keep an eye out for people in need of assistance.
“We don’t intervene,” David says. “We don’t leave our vehicles if we’re in potentially dangerous situations. That’s not our role, and the safety of our patrollers is paramount.
“Our role is to support the police to do their job and play our own part in keeping the community safe.”
In the case of night patrols, he says patrollers never leave their vehicles except in situations where a member of the public is in danger, such as following a car accident.
“We would make sure people are safe, the area is secure, and call the police and ambulance.”
The group has also been on hand to assist in emergencies.
Mr van der Kley has praised the group for its “fantastic help” during last year’s flooding, providing 35 patrollers in Edgecumbe to assist residents in and out of the area.
“They’ve been a great help on numerous occasions,” he says. “They do valuable work, we could do with more of them.”
He says the group is also very beneficial during busy holiday times when police are able to call on them to patrol areas they are unable to get to.
Though retired, life in the Henson household is busy. With Lorraine, David’s wife, both treasurer and a patroller for the group.
Between David and herself, much of their time is turned over to Community Patrol work.
With the group being self-funding, Lorraine is responsible for securing sponsorship and fundraising to keep their patrols going.
The group has two vehicles, both donated by Trustpower in Whakatane.
“We are very grateful for that,” she says. Training and uniforms are supplied by the national organisation. But fuel, vehicle maintenance and all other costs need to be met by the group itself.
“We’ve have some wonderful support and sponsorship from local businesses, which is great because we absolutely depend on sponsorship for our operations. But we are always needing more.”
And not only sponsorship. The group is currently looking for more volunteers to join its ranks so that patrols can be boosted further, and the voluntary work involved spread across more people.
Anyone interested in becoming a Whakatane Community Patrol volunteer can contact David Henson on 307 8269 or 0274 962527.
Volunteers need to be over the age of 18 and have a clean driving record. Volunteers are police vetted and undergo a three-month training period.