Every day and night of the week, the 30 members of the Valley Stream Civilian Patrol cruise village streets to monitor and help deter crime.
“We’re not law enforcement in any manner, sort or form,” George Catalanotto, the treasurer of the Civilian Patrol, said. “We’re eyes and ears. When we go out, it’s for the purpose of keeping an eye on things. We know where some of the haunts are, we know where some of the vulnerable spots are — and with that knowledge, we focus on certain areas.”
The patrolmen and women cannot arrest anyone or issue summonses, but if they see suspicious activity, they call 911 and then report it to two other Civilian Patrol members who log the incident for the organization’s records.
Members are told that they are not allowed to get out of their cars if there is a threat of harm. “But that doesn’t prevent someone to come over to ask us for assistance like, ‘I lost my dog,’” Catalanotto said. In that case, he said, a member would get the owner’s contact information and look for the pet.
If there is no perceivable threat of harm, members can let residents into their cars. For example, Catalanotto said that once a man approached him searching for his wife, who suffered from dementia. Catalanotto invited the man into his car and drove around with him to help find her. “We get involved to an extent, but once we leave our car, we’re acting as a good Samaritan,” he said.
The members of the Civilian Patrol range in age from 21 to 94; most members are middle-aged, according to Catalanotto. They can be found teaching students about safety, promoting their organization at community events and providing security for functions, such as the Holy Name of Mary church picnic.
Some businesses and schools also ask the Civilian Patrol to monitor their premises, including District 30 schools. Other districts said that they are interested in the service, but did not provide the organization with a written permission letter. President Ralph Polverino prefers to have such letters in order to avoid misunderstandings. “I want to make sure nobody’s saying, ‘Hey what are you doing here?’” Polverino explained.
The members are all volunteers; none receive any material compensation for their services, and they even use their own cars for patrols. In exchange, the executive board provides them with signs for their cars identifying them as Civilian Patrol members. They also receive uniforms, identification cards, gas vouchers and radios funded from state grants and community donations.
To help the patrol, the Village of Valley Stream stores some of the organization’s radios and provided them a room in the new courthouse at 195 Rockaway Ave. The village’s Recreation Department also offers members of the Civilian Patrol a discount at public pools.
“I appreciate what they do to communicate problems to both the Nassau County Police Department and the village,” Mayor Ed Fare said in a statement to the Herald. “More sets of eyes and ears in the community is a good thing.”
Catalanotto said that while he appreciates the benefits the village provides it is not the reason he and other members joined the organization. “We’re not doing this for the money, because there’s no money, and we’re not doing it to save a couple bucks at the pool because we get that anyway, we’re old,” he joked. “I guess the real [reason] is because we care about where we live.”