Taking ownership of community safety with help from the police

  • Living
  • Friday, 07 Jul 2017

Every Wednesday, the cops brief the patrollers on what to look out for in their neighbourhood based on trends.

It was close to 10pm when the Section 17 residents’ community group’s WhatsApp line started buzzing furiously one recent evening.

A resident in the Petaling Jaya suburb had noticed three men suspiciously circling around her house. So, she alerted the group, attaching image captures from the surveillance (CCTV) camera in her compound.

The response from the group was immediate.

After getting more details, two policemen – who are part of the community chat group – sprung into action, sending an alert to the patrolmen on duty.

Meanwhile, a few residents who are regular community patrollers jumped into their cars and rushed to the scene to keep watch. When two patrol cars, four policemen on bikes as well as a few plainclothesmen arrived at the scene about six minutes later, the residents briefed them (and the chat group) on the latest intel. The suspicious men were hiding in a narrow lane behind the houses.

The chat group remained the main source of communication between the residents and the police with the cops requesting more information and issuing warnings to residents in nearby houses.

community safety - police
The Section 17 community patrol works with the Damansara Utama police to safeguard the neighbourhood.

All this while, the other residents on the WhatsApp group were glued to their phones, following the constant updates. It was like a scene from a crime show on TV.

After just over an hour, the cops caught the three suspects and carted them back to the station. There were virtual collective cheers on the chat group with everyone applauding the effort of the cops and the fast-acting resident patrollers like Steven Khoo, Kelvin Yap, Sashi Nair and Elaine Nathanial.

Credit, says Sashi, really goes to our Men in Blue.

“Their response was really fast. The police officer we alerted wasn’t even on duty but he called his colleagues and joined us.

“People are always quick to judge the cops. We always hear talk that the police don’t act quickly enough or at all but this was a really good example of how they responded immediately. And it isn’t the first time. They always respond fast when we report suspicious activity in the neighbourhood. Their commitment is amazing,” says Sashi.

These Section 17 residents have been working closely with the Damansara Utama policemen for close to eight years.

community safety - police
Regular police patrols not only help residents feel safe but also deter petty criminals from coming out.

They patrol their neighbourhood with the police every Wednesday. They start at 8.30pm with a briefing from the policemen, with updates on trends and suspicious activities in nearby areas..

On other days, residents patrol the neighbourhood on an ad-hoc basis.

“Before we go on our patrol, we alert the police so that they’d be on stand-by should we need help,” says Nathanial who leads the community patrol group and residents association.

The bust that eventful night was, so far, the biggest, but not the neighbourhood watch’s only one. The police-community alliance has in the past nabbed snatch thieves as well as broken up fights in the area.

Needless to say, residents were truly grateful to the police as well as their neighbourhood patrollers for their fast work that night. The residents on the street where the suspicious men were caught are showing their appreciation by pooling funds to buy the patrollers a set of walkie-talkies to help ease communication during their rounds.

community safety - police
The Section 17 residents' community is ever vigilant.

For the police, being in constant touch with the residents is vital to effectively keep the area safe. The Section 17 resident’s group, they say, is constantly feeding them information about suspicious activities or unfamiliar vehicles parked along the roads in the housing area.

“There is a constant flow of information. Through the WhatsApp group, the police are aware of what’s going on in the area and we are able to dispatch our patrolmen accordingly. That night was a good example of how we can act and catch suspects, with clear information,” says one of the policemen on duty.

The community group also encourages residents to report any crime or incident to the police, regardless of how small it may be. Reports give the police an indication of how “hot” an area is: if the criminal activity is high, police patrols are stepped up.

“Even if it is a snatch theft or petty theft, we have to report it,” says Yap.

At present, the main group of community patrollers consists of about 10 residents. It’s a large area for such a small group to cover but they are committed to keeping their neighbourhood safe.

“Even though we all have full time jobs and are tired after a day’s work, we have to do it. It’s our homes and our neighbourhood. It would be good to have more volunteers, though,” says Sashi, who has been living in the area for decades.

community safety - police
Every Wednesday, the cops brief the patrollers on what to look out for in their neighbourhood based on trends.

The formation of the community group hasn’t just improved the security of the area but it has helped to create a sense of neighbourliness among residents. Like many urban residential areas, neighbours don’t often know each other but the patrollers are hoping things will change soon.

“We are slowly creating a real sense of community. We not only patrol but help residents whenever they need assistance.

“We offer help during funerals or when a resident is away and needs someone to watch their house or even their pets and plants,” says Nathanial who is the local councilwoman.

“I sometimes get calls and messages in the middle of the night. But we’re a community and we have to look out for each other,” she adds.

The patrol group was recently registered as a Residents Association and is in the process of setting up a cabin to facilitate their work.

“At least with a cabin, the police have somewhere to be stationed and we have a proper place to meet,” she says.

Just like the group in Section 17, community groups are increasingly being set up in neighbourhoods in the Klang Valley, which the police say is crucial in keeping homes safe.

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