Schenectady County

Neighborhood watch volunteers’ police radios wearing out

Neighborhood watch police radios — some more than 25 years old — are breaking down, hampering the gr

Neighborhood watch police radios — some more than 25 years old — are breaking down, hampering the group’s patrols and its efforts to locate young children, officials said this week.

Neighborhood watch members use radios to keep in contact with police while walking city streets. They’re also used, group members say, in important efforts to find young missing children who might have wandered away from home.

“The quicker we can find them, the less likely they will be to fall prey to someone with evil intent,” Schenectady Neighborhood Watch President Fred Lee said. “We have many trained, but we can’t send them out unless they have proper communications equipment.”

The groups are using the problem with their radios as the focal point in an effort to raise $40,000 for efforts to keep watch over the city’s neighborhoods. The effort has already gotten donations from Rotary clubs, and some private individuals, officials said. The county has also put in for a grant.

Excess funds would go to buy hats, vests and pay for more training, officials said.

But the focus is on the radios.

Just two years ago, the watch program had between 20 and 22 working radios, Lt. Brian Barnes of the Schenectady Police Department said. They now have seven and those are between 25 and 30 years old, acquired when organized watch groups began in the city.

Barnes heads the police department’s Community Services Division and the watch programs.

The radios are so old, he said, that when they break down there are no parts to fix them.

Six neighborhood watch groups count 175 residents as members. Many simply watch out for crime. Others can do patrols, walking around in the evening getting exercise and seeing what’s happening.

Many of those also participate in the Child Find program. The program has been called out about 90 times a year in recent years, mostly for when a child wanders off.

The program’s highest profile success came in 1999, when a child was left on the bus and was found by a program member.

Among the residents who participate in Child Find is Hamilton Hill watch head Robert Slater.

“We get them late at night and early in the morning,” he said of the Child Find calls. “It’s a 24-hour service.”

But such searches require coordination. That’s where the radios come in.

For more information on neighborhood watch and Child Find, contact Barnes at 377-4137.

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