Seniors begin patrolling high-rise to keep it safe
NEW LONDON, Conn.—Ethel Whitney has lived at 202 Colman St. for about six years, but only rarely has socialized with the 130 or so others who live in the 11-story apartment building.
Virginia Watrous, who has lived in the elderly high-rise for about five years, also didn't venture out much into the hallways of the nearly 40-year-old state housing complex.
That is until about five months ago, when a group of volunteers wearing bright, mustard yellow T-shirts with "C.O.P." on the back began walking the hallways.
"We didn't mingle or go out," Watrous said Sunday. Residents were afraid, she said, of drug-dealing and other nefarious activities involving people who didn't belong in the building.
But when Carl Lee, Tom Maynard and Bill Watters, his son Chris Watters, all members of Citizens On Patrol, began walking up and down the halls, things changed. The men, who all graduated from the New London Citizens Police Academy, made sure outside doors were secure. They rode the elevator and climbed the stairs, encouraged loiterers to move on, and called the police for assistance when needed.
They became the residents' white knights in yellow shirts.
"They're awesome," Watrous said.
"They're fantastic," Whitney added.
On Sunday night, the women were on their way to play Bingo in the community room. On weekday mornings, they gather for coffee on the first floor with dozens of other residents.
"They've brought a lot to the building," Whitney said. "It feels more like a home."
Bill Watters, who goes to the high-rise for coffee four or five times a week, including every Sunday night and most mornings, said it makes him feel good that he is helping out.
"It was like a ghost town in here," said Watters, who was a dispatcher for Yellow Cab for 32 years. "They were afraid to go out."
But now with COP in the building, and with the installation of a new elevator, new doors and multiple security cameras, residents feel more comfortable.
"I do think they've made a difference," said Sue Shontell, executive director of the New London Housing Authority, which manages the apartment building. "I know people who don't live there are gone, and people who do live there are more comfortable. It's been beneficial."
During their rounds Sunday evening, the men discovered a large empty cardboard box outside of an apartment on the 11th floor, two glass coffee pots in the hallway on the sixth floor and two fire doors that were propped open. They made note that all could be fire hazards and planned to make a report Monday morning to the housing authority.
"He's a good guy," resident Terrell Crockett said when she ran into Watters on the 10th floor. "He makes sure we're safe."
"Residents love that we're here," Lee said. "They know they can come to us if there's a problem and we can help them."
In addition to playing bingo and having coffee, the men attend picnics with the residents and sometimes sit in a first-floor apartment and watch a monitor that shows rotating views from four security cameras.
Citizens On Patrol is a program of the Neighborhood Alliance and is sanctioned by the housing authority and the police department.
"I honestly think the service they provide is a great service," said Carl Brisson-Lopez, the city's crime prevention officer. "They go through the academy given by New London Police Department so they're trained. . They know what to look for and know when to call the police.
"They are observers," he said. They become really reliable witnesses for us."
Brisson-Lopez said the department used to receive numerous calls from the high-rise. Many complaints are now handled by the COP members on duty, he said.
"Some of the calls shouldn't have come to us, but residents didn't know if they should call or not," he said. "Now residents feel comfortable."
Information from: The Day, http://www.theday.com