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What is Citizens on Patrol?

Citizens on Patrol, or C.O.P. as they are commonly referred to, are organized groups of citizens who volunteer their time to patrol their neighborhoods. To date there are approximately 100 groups patrolling neighborhoods in Baltimore County. They act as additional “eyes and ears”, for their local police officers.  They use their own vehicles with signs that identify them as C.O.P.

What is the purpose?

The Citizen on Patrol program is a very effective Crime Prevention tool for all communities. The presence of C.O.P. acts as a deterrent to crime.  In fact, the majority of our patrols have drastically reduced crime in their neighborhoods and eliminated the suspicious activity associated with crime, thereby enhancing the overall quality of life in the community.

Think about it, if you were a criminal, would you go to a community where people are patrolling. Most of the neighborhoods post C.O.P. street signs at all entrances, advertising their patrol. Having a patrol sends a strong message that residents care about their community and are united. Forming a patrol tends to draw a community closer together, opening new lines of communication, and forms long term partnerships and friendships. Knowing who belongs in the neighborhood is crucial in deterring crime.

Who can have a Citizens on Patrol?

Any community or neighborhood can organize a patrol.  You can do it with as few as two members.

How does a C.O.P. operate?

Patrol groups utilize foot patrol or their personal cars and have radios or cell phones to communicate with the police.  One method of patrolling utilizes 3 persons: 2 in the car, a driver and an observer while the third person remains at home with a radio. This is referred to as a Base Station.  If the patroller spots something, they radio the Base Station, who then calls 911. Another option is the use of cellular telephones. This allows patrollers to call 911 directly. Some groups utilize both.  Many groups also have daylight patrols and utilize people who regularly walk and bike for exercise.

How are these patrols financed?

Baltimore County offers grant funding to supplement groups for startup and operation costs.  The grants usually open for applications around April of each year.  Other groups have funded their patrols through their associations or strictly through donations.  A cellular phone operation can be implemented and is a very inexpensive method to operate as a C.O.P.

How often does a group patrol?

Some groups have a patrol out as often as 7 days and nights each week.  The majority patrol just 2-4 days with a varied schedule.  This is done so no one can pinpoint their routine. A patrol should be tailored to fit the needs of the community and its members. Crime trends and statistical information provided by the precinct Community Outreach Team can assist groups in creating a schedule. Is there a right or wrong time to patrol?  No, criminals are opportunists and are simply waiting. Being out and visible in the community is the best deterrent to crime.

Is there a particular type of neighborhood that needs a patrol?

No.  Many of our patrols are in very stable and established communities.  They form patrols to keep their streets safe and problems out. The reality is that all communities need some sort of crime prevention mechanism in place.

How do you start a patrol?

The first step is to set up a community meeting to discuss the needs of the community. Many groups use the prospect of a future C.O.P., or general crime prevention, as a topic for one of their regular association meetings. Contact and invite a Community Outreach Officer from your local Precinct, who will attend and explain the program. Recruit and sign up volunteers every chance you get.

The key is to create a schedule that is flexible and convenient for your patrollers. Don’t become regimented with a specific schedule. Flex and change your hours and routine. This creates a problem for criminals because they won’t know when you are out.


Letting members sign up on a calendar is a simple and organized method to schedule patrollers. Once you have established a group of volunteers, contact your Community Outreach Officer and coordinate a training session. How to start packets and C.O.P. manuals are available through your Community Outreach unit.

Is Citizens on Patrol dangerous?

No. C.O.P. patrollers are observers only. They report criminal and suspicious activity or needs for emergency assistance to the police. They are not vigilantes. They do not carry weapons, or confront persons engaged in criminal or suspicious activity.

If you wish to learn about the Williamsburg Community Association’s Citizen On Patrol, please reach out to Gary Carter ( / 410.978.4599).


July 16, 2013 – Gary Carter, Project Manager of the Williamsburg Community Association’s COP, receives the WCA’s first ever Appreciation Award from Pres. John Seymour. The Association recently received its second annual COP Block grant award under Mr. Carter’s leadership. Photo by Glen Charlow

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Almost daily the Baltimore County Police Department distributes news releases to the media that includes iWatch crime alerts about wanted criminals, missing persons, criminal arrests, and other significant cases that may request the public’s assistance in being attentive and watchful.

These iWatch crime alerts generally request the public’s help in identifying or locating a suspect in a crime, the whereabouts of a missing person, or even an alert just to let you know that an arrest has been made in a criminal case. Your knowledge could help detectives solve a robbery, burglary, sexual assault, or even a homicide.

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