Last Updated June 5, 2000

Conference to focus on citizens patrols
More than 30 groups will attend the event, the first of its kind, in Corona this weekend.

By C.J. Schexnayder
The Press-Enterprise
CORONA

As a member of the Norco Citizens Patrol, Arthur Femister loved his work, but he quickly discovered most people had no idea what he did.

That gave him a goal.

"As a child, you know what a policeman does, fireman does," Femister said. "I would like for everyone to automatically know what a citizen patrol does."

That might be awhile in the future, but as a first step, the National Association Citizens on Patrol, of which Femister is the president, will hold its first national conference in Corona on Saturday. The all-day event will begin at 8 a.m. in the Corona Civic Center.

Several hundred members of more than 30 patrol organizations are expected to attend, Femister said. While many are from Southern California, a few are coming from as far away as Canada and Florida.

For keynote speaker Assemblyman Rod Pacheco, R-Riverside, the conference is an ideal time to honor an underappreciated group that donates its time to help public safety.

"We are trying to recognize volunteer spirit of these people who try to keep our community safe," he said.

The nonprofit national organization was started by Femister a year ago and has already grown to 1,100 members representing 32 citizens patrol groups nationwide. The conference is the first major activity sponsored by the group and is believed to be the first of its kind, Femister said.

While organized with the cooperation of local law-enforcement agencies, volunteers do not have any of the special privileges of a sworn police officer. They don't carry guns or other weapons, and they have no arrest powers. The majority of their work is to patrol and report suspicious people and activity to officers.

They also help by performing perfunctory tasks, such as security patrols and directing traffic, that free sworn officers to do more specialized tasks.

"The best thing I can compare them to is the National Guard," Pacheco said. "They are an adjunct and a valuable resource that are called on in time of need."

While statistical evidence on the impact of such groups is limited, the patrols can be a valuable tool for departments both logistically and psychologically, said Cheryl Maxson, director of the University of Southern California's Center for the Study of Crime and Social Control.

"These kind of relationship-building activities can be helpful to increase community familiarity with law enforcement," Maxson said. "They help increase the trust between the two."

All Citizens Patrol programs require background checks and training. In Norco, volunteers receive 16 hours of training, which includes crime prevention, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid, criminal law, driver awareness, patrol procedures, traffic control and radio communication. They also are required to ride along with a deputy during their first four-hour shift.

The conference will provide an opportunity to help understand more specialized aspects of law enforcement, Femister said. Officers from local law enforcement agencies will demonstrate procedures police work, such as spotting methamphetamine labs by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, hazardous material work by the Corona Fire Department and auto theft prevention and investigations by the Riverside Auto Theft Interdiction Service.

The groups will also work on how to better organize and see how other groups work.

"It's a unique opportunity to get a better understanding of what everyone is doing," Femister said. "Being all together we can look at how others are organized, what services offered and how they run things."

For more information on the conference, call (909) 898-8551, or visit the association's Web site, http://www.nacop.org/

C.J. Schexnayder can be reached by e-mail at cschexnayder@pe.com or by phone at (909) 737-1366.

Published 5/5/2000

 

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