Vigilantes and volunteers

By SHARON BASCO  |  August 14, 2008

When the funds became available for a community patrol, the tenants at the Bromley-Heath housing project voted to decide what hours the patrol would be on duty. They chose daylight hours, the hours most of them were at work and away from their apartments.

"Since the patrol started, in the daytime everything is cool," Bill Mallory said. Mallory, 25, was a mechanic before he got married. He lives in Bromley-Heath (as do all the patrolmen) and says that a major problem is the lack of a balanced community. "This place is mostly women and children and old people," he said. That's why he decided to join the patrol nine months ago. Now, he spends his days walking through the project, talking to the kids, helping the old people get to the hospital if they need care or therapy. He checks out the area for unfamiliar cars, cars that may have been stolen and abandoned. He climbs up six or seven flights of stairs (the elevators rarely work) with his partner Garfield ("Butch") Smith, and looks around on the roof. It's a favorite place for purse-snatchers to take their haul, to empty the pocketbooks on the rooftops, and leave them empty in a pile. On the way down, patrolmen Smith and Mallory walk around each floor, checking doors to be sure tenants have locked them. If doors aren't latched, they lock them.

In 14 months, the Bromley-Heath patrol has proven itself effective in cementing community relations and sensitivity to fellow neighbors' problems. They've lectured kids about drugs, and have planted in Bromley-Heath a sense of security, a sense there is someone to call for help when the police don't arrive fast enough. Just seeing them strolling around, radio in hand, gives tenants the feeling that someone would be there to help if help were needed. Actually, there's not much the patrols can do except provide this feeling. They aren't authorized to carry weapons. They carry hand-cuffs and bullet-deflecting shields disguised as clopboards. They've come a way since the first days on patrol when their brown uniforms prompted neighborhood kids to call them Texas Rangers, Smokey the Bear and Brownies.

"The kiss of death is to boom these guys too high," Sgt. Walter O'Neill said. O'Neill is patrol supervisor of the Boston police housing division. He helped train the Bromley-Heath patrol in self-defense, and sits on the monitoring committee that hires the neighborhood patrolmen for the $7,000 or $8,000 a year full-time posts.

"I feel for them. I've got maternalistic feelings for these guys," O'Neill said. "I won't say the patrol isn't a useful tool. I don't want to see them put out. I worry about them sometimes. They don't have weapons — can't carry them — and they could get hurt.

"These are well-meaning people. Oh, maybe they exaggerate their accomplishments. But they have a patrol that works because of a couple of people there who are really sincere. And putting a few males on the streets gives the place there at Bromley a feeling of security."

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