By Claudio E. Cabrera
Special to DNAinfo.com New York
INWOOD — Uptown locals concerned by a spike in violent crime over the past year are taking to the streets of Inwood and Washington Heights.
Members of the newly formed Northern Manhattan Civillian Observation Patrol (NMCOP), which is overseen by the 34th Precinct, launched its first walking patrol of the neighborhood July 16 and plans to schedule weekly walks starting in August.
The group, which is seeking volunteers, plans to to watch for crimes and unusual behavior and report it back to the precinct — but members emphasize they have no plans to intervene if they stumble upon any crimes in action.
"Considering what happened in Florida with the Trayvon Martin murder, we have made it a point to join forces with the 34th Precinct and receive the proper instruction and training to make sure something like that never occurs," said Aaron Simms, an Inwood resident and leader of the group. "This is not an armed vigilante group. We are not carrying any sorts of weapons. We are just here to spot and prevent crimes from occurring."
The group will carry cell phones and police radios, Simms said.
NMCOP is the latest incarnation of a civilian patrol in the neighborhood, following in the footsteps of several organized during the 70s, 80s, and two recent patrols created over the past ten years.
The last patrol in Inwood and Washington Heights came three years ago when residents came together for a short time, but eventually disbanded. They had no ties with the local precinct and disbanded when interest waned.
In 2004, another neighborhood patrol fell apart when the 34th Precinct voiced concern the group had become "overzealous" in its patrols, police and neigbors said.
During the late 70s and 80s, a group called the Seaman Block Association also patrolled Inwood during a time when crime across the city was at an all-time high.
This patrol hopes to be different from the former groups, organizers said.
"We are just an extra set of eyes," said founder Aaron Simms. "We have no tricks up our sleeves, we are just neighbors helping neighbors."
Simms, who held a meeting this past Monday attended by over 20 local residents, said the group has now been sanctioned and plans to begin regular patrols in August. They group currently has 14 members.
"We continue to grow by the day," said Simms. "This is an all-inclusive group. It's not a west or east of Broadway patrol or a Dominican or non-Dominican patrol. It's a neighborhood patrol. We are all in this together to keep our neighborhood safe.”
After meeting last week, the group took an inaugural walk through the neighborhood touching Isham Park, Cooper Street, Academy Street, Sherman Avenue and Broadway, areas where many of the recruits live.
Susan Ryan, one of the patrol members, said she believes the patrol is a plus for the neighborhood, but would like to see a comprehensive approach of additional police and neighborhood patrols. Her husband, Michael O' Reilly, was brutally attacked inside Isham Park last month, suffering a broke nose, two black eyes and other injuries. He is currently seeing a neurologist, because of symptoms from his injuries.
“We hope to make an impact, but after my husband's beating and robbery and other incidents out here, it is clear we need extra police in this neighborhood," said Ryan. "The problem is we just aren't getting it."
Neighbor Inger Tilson-Breton said she agrees she would like to see more police enforcement and voiced concern for the safety of the patrol volunteers.
"As much as this group has great intentions, they are making themselves targets,” she said. “I rather have no need for them and have the police do what they are supposed to do and increase their presence in our community.”
Those interested in learning more about the patrol can email firstname.lastname@example.org, request an application through the Community Affairs office at the 34th Precinct or follow the group at Twitter.com/nmcop.