7 Blocks Project – The Volunteer Power behind the University District Radio Patrols

Decades-long Detroit residents rally against crime

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Some Detroit residents are actively fighting crime by hitting the roads and the radio waves in regular neighborhood watch patrols.  WXYZ Anchor Alicia Smith rode along recently to see how they operate.

It’s part of our Detroit 2020 “7 Blocks” reporting initiative that takes us deeper into neighborhoods in Detroit’s 7 Districts. 

The University District Radio Patrol operates in District 2.

“We cover 5 dozen blocks,” explained Mary Jo Smith – who’s lived in the neighborhood since 1965.  Many there consider her “The Face” of the radio patrol.

The patrol is made up of volunteers who live in that neighborhood.  They patrol in groups of two and communicate with a command center via radios.

Alicia Smith asked her what Mary Jo looks for when she’s out on a typical patrol.

“The phrase that’s popular among law enforcement now -- and we use it as well -- is ‘deviation from base line,’” she replied.

One example would be seeing a car in front of a neighbor’s home when you know the neighbor is out of town.

“The big [crime] problem is people messing with cars.  They’ll steal them, strip them, vandalize them,” she said.

She said the worst time of the week for that kind of activity has been during church on Sunday mornings.

The radio patrol had to triple its efforts on Sunday mornings five years ago because so many cars were being stolen or stripped.

“Once we even heard of some kids stripping a car in a church parking lot,” she exclaimed.

“So, boom, we had three cars there. And working with the 12th Precinct – in under 5 minutes we had a police car there,” she recalled. “That crew never returned…we scared them off.”

Mary Jo Smith said there are about 25 active radio patrols in the city of Detroit.

A spokesperson for the Detroit Police Department said six of those are in the 12th Precinct .

“The police department really likes working with us because we can provide them with information so they could close several dope houses, and they got several burglary rings,” she said.

Mary Jo Smith is a proud Detroit radio patroller who is not resting on her laurels.


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