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Municipal Workers Watch Over Neighborhood Streets

By Becky Lewis
May 2013

There’s a lockdown situation at the local high school. Police, firefighters and EMS personnel know where to go, what to do. As do the sanitation workers in the vicinity of the campus.

Most communities are well aware of the roles that public safety professionals can play in such an event, but sanitation workers? Well, if they participate in a New Jersey project called My Community on Patrol (M.C.O.P.), those workers know their trucks can make excellent roadblocks that can help keep the public away from the danger and free up law enforcement officers from routine traffic control duties.

Freeholder* James Polos, chair of the Middlesex County Department of Public Safety and Health, introduced the Middlesex Community on Patrol program in 2003 as a way of using county employees as “extra eyes and ears” in the community to help local law enforcement. The successful program expanded statewide in 2007 and changed its name to one that reflected that expansion, but retained the M.C.O.P. acronym and branding.

“The idea behind it is simple: in many communities, particularly small ones, there’s a limit to the number of police personnel patrolling the streets. At any given time during the day or even during the evening, there can be significantly more municipal employees on the streets that there are police officers,” Polos says. “I’m talking about sanitation workers, housing inspectors, fire inspectors, bus drivers, senior citizens transport drivers. They’re all out on the street, day in and day out. They have a keen knowledge of what the community is about. If they travel the same route regularly, they may have a keen awareness of what looks out of place, such as a suspicious vehicle in driveway or a garage door that’s open when it shouldn’t be.”

Participation in M.C.O.P is voluntary; employees who choose to become involved take a two-hour training program about what to watch for and how to report it, using the two-way radio and frequencies already in use in their vehicles. The Middlesex County Prosecutors Office and the Middlesex Country Chiefs of Police Association helped develop the training, which has reached approximately 2,000 employees in Middlesex County alone in the past 10 years.

“We’ve really instructed them to become more keenly aware of their surroundings. If they think something doesn’t seem right or look right, they should report it,” Polos says.

And implementing M.C.O.P. has given rise to a more holistic response to a potential incident in a school: “Across the country, there’s been an enormous amount of focus on the public safety response to situations in schools, but not much emphasis on the community response. As an example, we looked at other resources we could use in establishing inner and outer perimeters that don’t tax the limited emergency personnel available and decided there’s no better barrier than a trash truck!”

Polos says M.C.O.P. has created a “small army of volunteers” in communities throughout New Jersey. Middlesex County participants who call in reports receive recognition, which helps maintain worker interest in continuing with the program.

“The resources they can provide are limitless. If we’re looking for someone involved in a school violence incident, for a missing child, for a hit-and-run driver, it puts more eyes on the street. We’ve recently expanded the program so that in certain instances, they may receive a communication through their radios to be on the lookout, for example, for a particular individual or car,” he says.

“We do stress that they are not to pursue anyone or try to apprehend anyone. They’re simply acting as eyes and ears,” Polos adds.

If you’re interested in establishing a program in your community based on M.C.O.P., please contact James Polos at [email protected].

*The Board of Chosen Freeholders is the county legislature for New Jersey counties.