I decided to go on a spontaneous street patrol tonight. As you may know, my RLSH work is focused on community service rather than fighting street crime, so unless you count my late-night walks across town, I rarely do anything resembling a street patrol. Tonight, however, I heard about a major disturbance over at Brush Towers, a set of three seventeen-story-tall concrete dorms near my house. So, I decided to look into it.
I started by tuning in to the local police/fire audio feed online. One of my friends shared with me an excellent site called Radio Reference that lets you find the audio from local police and fire frequencies:
We had actually just been talking about this site today, so when the power went out on the south side of town, my friend heard about it and sent me the link to our local feed.
We won’t know the full story until the newspaper comes out tomorrow, but the situation sounded very serious. A section of town was without power, including these tall towers on the south side of town that are home to hundreds of undergrads, many of whom have only been in town for a few weeks. Once the power was out, it sounds like a riot broke out, with a group of people fighting outside of these towers, numerous police and ambulances on the scene, some disturbances on neighboring streets, extra police called in from a few surrounding towns, etc. At this point, I was still at home, but it sounded pretty bad over the police scanner.
Of course, I have no great desire to get my head bashed in, or to get in the way of the police. So I wasn’t sure at first if I should go out there. But I decided I should at least make sure none of the violence or vandalism was spilling over into my neighborhood, which is a few blocks away from these towers. So I decided to go out on patrol. I tend to wear a minimal version of my costume [utility belt plus shirt] every day now, so all I had to do was throw on a jacket and head out.
At first, everything looked normal for an average weeknight: quiet streets, one or two cars going by, one or two people walking by, etc. Then, I came to the part of town where the power was out. It’s a part of town with a few blocks of houses, a big student recreation center (a.k.a. gym), and a homeless shelter, so I decided to check and be sure no one from the dorms had wandered over here with trouble on their mind.
It was odd walking down streets without any power late at night. I had my flashlight out and looked around a bit for signs of trouble. But it was actually a very quiet and peaceful walk through the neighborhood.
When I reached one of the bigger streets without power, there were several clusters of people heading away from the towers, presumably wanting to avoid any trouble while the power was out. Since the power was completely out, I went and checked a few nearby storefronts and started heading toward the towers.
The towers had emergency power only. This means that the stairway lights [visible from the street] had power, but not the rest of the building [i.e people’s dorm rooms]. This being the case, I walked along the street along the far edge of the big field in front of the dorms [East Grand] to assess the situation and decide if I should check out the street immediately next to / beneath the towers. From what I could tell, some of the emergency vehicles were leaving already, indicating to me that any immediate rioting that had been going on had run its course while I patrolled my neighborhood. There was still activity outside of the towers, but the situation seemed more stable than it had sounded on the scanner. I also decided that any police left in the area would probably frown on a non-resident of the towers needlessly loitering at the base of the towers, so I decided to stick to far side of the big field and keep going past the towers.
[This is an important point that any people who are new to neighborhood patrols should really note: if the police have it covered, there’s no need to get in the way. It was more important for me to go and explore the areas the police didn’t have covered because they were busy dealing with a riot.]
Shortly thereafter, the power came back on for everything but the towers and campus. I decided to check on the community center I work at [Gaia House Interfaith Center] to be sure the power was back on and everything was fine. Things looked good over there and at the other community center across the tracks [Newman Center], so I headed home. Along the way, I saw about a half dozen police cars all together in a parking lot, with some of the officers standing around and talking casually. I don’t know what they were saying, but judging by their tone/demeanor, they were hanging out in case they were still needed and joking around with each other to shake off any remaining tension from dealing with the situation at the towers.
I did one last walk-through down a couple of streets in my neighborhood to ensure that the power was back on and that nothing had been vandalized during the outage. Everything was fine, so I went home.
On the one hand, this was a fairly uneventful patrol. I basically just went for a walk around town and saw some extra people walking and some extra police cars and ambulances in the area. But I definitely feel it was worth it to keep an eye on the neighborhood while trouble was brewing a few blocks over. And I definitely feel like it was worth writing about since it’s not something I do every day. I do plan on doing street patrols here in Carbondale later this fall, though, once I’ve got a local team together, so this was a good preview and left me with plenty of food for thought about the future.