The night life of community patrolling

Keeping people and property safe: Bethlehem Community Patrol's Peter Williams and Bryan McKenzie. Photo: Bruce Barnard

“Bloody good,” says Bryan McKenzie. That’s because it’s drizzling, the dark is heavy and oppressive, it’s gone midnight and its miserable.

“It’ll keep the idiots at home.”

He’s right. The city’s deserted. Even the “idiots” have gone to bed.

That’s “bloody good” for Bryan and “bloody good” for you and I. Our streets and homes are safe from the burglars, bashers and the like. At least tonight.

The Bethlehem Community Patrol is on patrol. And The Weekend Sun is riding shotgun, squeezed into the back seat.

Ex-cop-cum-racing inspector Bryan and another ex-cop-cum-fishing inspector Peter Williams. Both grizzled, hardened and streetwise, both retired – tonight they’re the eyes and ears of the Police force. They’re doing work the cops simply don’t have the time and resources to do.

But no guns, no batons, no handcuffs, no powers – they’re armed only with their wits. They don’t engage with trouble, they don’t confront or detain – their Modus operandi is to spot trouble and report it to those better able to handle it. The cops.

“It shouldn’t be dangerous,” says Bryan. “We don’t put ourselves in the firing line, in danger.” They stay put in the car, protected by strict health and safety guidelines.

Their liveried Suzuki SUV – “1800cc’s of sheer grunt,” jokes McKenzie – has a couple of flashing lights, a search light and a police radio. “When there’s one the cops aren’t using.”

But it does the job and a valuable one.

“Just the presence of a marked car must prevent crime,” says Bryan. “It’s pretty difficult to measure but the Police acknowledge the value of the patrols.”

A marked car and a filthy wet night is a great deterrent and we don’t encounter any threat to the peace tonight. The city is safe. Job done.

We did encounter one homeless guy rugged up at the back of the Brookfield shops. “You okay mate?” No response – he didn’t want to engage. We move on and the wet night reclaims the homeless guy.

It’s called the Bethlehem Community Patrol but the ‘Bethlehem’ is a bit of a misnomer. These guys scratch around from Sulphur Point to Bureta, Cherrywood to Matua, from Brookfield to Otumoetai, Bethlehem and Judea. North Tauranga would probably be more appropriate.

I thumb through the incident report and there’s an encounter with a colourful character. “Deep throat” emerged from the darkness when the BCP was parked up at a suburban shopping centre.

According to his intel there’s a brothel operating out of the fish ‘n’ chip shop and the grocery is dealing in drugs. Really? “The informant lives in fantasyland but is harmless. We wished him well and moved on,” says the report.

The windscreen wipers are still clacking wildly when we sweep into the hospital carpark. “Carparks are a hotbed,” says Bryan. Not tonight. A foul night is a dampener even for car-breakers. There is no-one or nothing afoot.

Then Bryan launches into his pitch because there’s a reporter in the back seat and the patrolman has a captive audience. Bryan Mckenzie needs more Bryan McKenzies and Peter Williams, at least another eight of them.

There are 14 people on the BCP roster doing three or four hours on a Friday or Saturday night once a month. They need at least 22 to cover the shifts, attrition, absences and illness.

“Why would you not want to do something for your community? It’s extremely satisfying keeping people and property safe. It beats going to sleep in front of the TV. But don’t put that in the story.” Righto.

Yes, he’s tried to recruit other old cops but they’ve spent their working life chasing crims. “They’re disinclined,” he says. Fair enough.

The BCP’s also advertised and put the word out. Now the BCP has come to me.

“We need mature, sensible, responsible people – people with nous who are keen to serve the community.” And it’s not just for blokes looking for excitement. “We have a couple of husband-and-wife teams – an equal mix of men and woman.”

And to ensure candidates are of good character they’re thoroughly vetted.

The patrol also needs a new patrol car – the Suzuki is older, manual, only two doors and “probably not totally adequate for our needs”. The BCP is looking for a sponsor to put up $15,000 for a new one. A small price to pay for safe streets.

Bryan and Peter come across a domestic dispute which has spilled onto the street. The woman is more tearful than fearful. The couple is ethnic and the patrolmen struggle to make sense of it. But their presence and questions defuse things and the peace is made. BCP moves on.

Not far though because the patrol discovers some young people making mischief on some road maintenance machines in Chapel St. The patrol “hits them with the flash lights” and calls out to them. They scatter like rabbits. Later when they’re located they are “approachable and respectful”. The BCP log says they were simply living out their childhood dreams of being steamroller drivers and were not criminally minded. A good outcome.

The patrol does a cursory sweep of The Strand. The young people are headed to the nightclubs. The BCP with reporter in tow are headed home to bed. It’s just gone one o’clock when the patrol wagon rolls up to the Police station after a three-hour, 80km romp around town. It was pretty uneventful, but isn’t that good?

Do you want to join the Bethlehem Community Patrol? Do you want to contribute to a safe community?

Call Bryan Mckenzie on 07 570 2483 or 027 8135426 or Colin Leech on 07 579 2104 or 021 269235.