Keeping an eye on Franklin Square

The Franklin Square Civilian Patrol car stopped to observe the teens. When the four spotted the car they dispersed.
If anything should have happened, if there was a fight among the teens or if they had their trunk open and were acting suspiciously the patrol members would have called the police.
That’s the idea behind the volunteer Civilian Patrol, which started 22 years ago, to be the eyes and ears of the police.
I rode along with patrol members Mary Seifert, Franklin Square Chamber of Commerce president-elect and Pat Savella, Chamber treasurer. The pair have been patrol members for about a year.
Savella lives in Elmont but considers Franklin Square her community. Her store, Avanti Window Fashions, is in the town, along with the fact that her children and grandchildren all live in Franklin Square. She said wanted to be a member of the patrol because she wanted to do something for the community.
“The president of the Civilian Patrol [Hesham Khafaga] came and spoke at a chamber meeting and brought applications,” Savella said.
Seifert, who lives in Lynbrook but considers Franklin Square her community because the UPS Store that she owns is in Franklin Square, said she became a member so she could give back to the community that has given her so much.
“We patrol mostly the side streets,” Seifert said. “The police department knows the problem areas.
“We work in tandem with the police,” Seifert added. “They know we’re out here.”
The pair, nicknamed Cagney and Lacey, after the popular women detective television show of the 1970s, patrol 10 to 12 miles in their two-hour stint on Tuesday nights. The “hot spots” where kids hang-out and activity is seen are the elementary schools, the high school, some fast food restaurants, Rath Park and the sump –– that the kids call the creek. The pair drive slowly through the neighborhoods looking for anything that doesn’t seem right.
There are currently 35 members of the Civilian Patrol and they are out all day and all night, said Sgt. Edward Grim of the Fifth Precinct who works with the patrol.
“They’re very helpful,” Grim said. “The police officers might be busy with 911 calls. The fact that they’re from the community means they have a vested interest in trying to keep the community safe.
“They are trained in what to look for, first aid, how to evaluate a situation and what should be reported,” Grim added.
The Civilian Patrol members are also trained not to get in harm’s way. “If they see teenagers fight in the street they don’t break it up,” Grim said. “They stay in the car and call 911.” When they make the call, they identify themselves as Civilian Patrol.
They can also assist the police on the scene of an accident.
We had an incident off Franklin Avenue where a car, at the entrance to McDonald’s, hit a pole and all the electric, high voltage wires fell on the ground,” Grim said. “[Members of the Civilian Patrol] helped the police department put out the cones and yellow tape and redirected the traffic.”
Carl Gerrato, 41, an investigator with the Nassau County Sheriff’s department, and a volunteer fireman, has been a member of the Civilian Patrol for eight years. He serves as a team captain, which means he has a group of patrolees that report to him.
“My family’s been in this town since the ‘20s,” Gerrato said. “My mother always said you can’t make a difference if you sit on the bench. My kids go to the neighborhood schools. I want to keep the neighborhood safe for the kids and kept the community as safe as possible.”
The Patrol is also there to help. “One of my patrolees saw a woman fall,” Gerrato said. He called 911 for her.
“We don’t do this for a pat on the back,” Gerrato said. “We do it because we care about the community.”
Gerrato’s son Brian, 22 and his brother Joseph are both members of the patrol.
Seifert and Savella saw a couple of kids standing around by the high school. They pulled the car over and asked if they were all right. The kids were fine, they were waiting for their parents to pick them up after a game, but that’s the type of thing the patrol does.
The patrolees ride in pairs or by themselves. They have decals on the side of their cars to identify them as Franklin Square Civilian Patrol. Some keep in contact with each other through walkie talkies; others just use cell phones.
“The saddest thing we ever saw was a 15-year-old pregnant girl who asked if she could borrow our cell phone,” Savella said. “Our phone is connected to our car, so we said we could make a call for her. She said, ‘No.’ Then we saw her go into four or five stores. She looked like she was on something. She ran behind the library and we never saw her again. It just shows you that these problems are right in your own backyard.”
“We patrol schools to make sure there’s no vandalism,” Gerrato said. “One of my patrolees a few years back saw some kids starting a fire.
“The Civilian Patrol is a visible force,” Gerrato added. “The cops can’t be everywhere.” If you’re interested in volunteering with the Franklin Square Civilian Patrol send your name and address and a request for an application to: Franklin Square Civilian Patrol, P.O. Box 96, Franklin Square, NY 11010.