The crime-stopper group Ashburton Town Watch is urgently seeking more volunteers.
Numbers are so low the group can only cover Saturday nights; the trained volunteers act as eyes and ears for Ashburton police and also monitor security cameras in the CBD.
President Owen Brewster said nine active members, men and women from their late-20s to mid-80s, were currently rostered in three-person shifts. The group was desperate for more people to join.
Owen, who spent 32 years with the police as a mechanic and retired to Ashburton eight years ago, says the volunteers patrol Ashburton’s commercial area and other known trouble spots. They observe potential trouble-makers and alert police to suspicious activity. They also phone business owners to report open windows and gates that could indicate a break-in.
The Town Watch volunteers work in pairs, from a labelled car, and don’t put themselves at risk. They ignore the verbal insults of drunks who try to catch a lift, but will stop to administer first aid if needed.
Town Watch started in 1985, set up by members of the local citizen band radio and four-wheel drive clubs following concern about an increase in violent offending and damage to businesses and homes.
Members once used their own cars to patrol, but now have a supplied car sign-written and fitted with radio and spotlights. The vehicle is housed at the Ashburton police station, where shifts begin around 10pm and finish about 3am.
Potential new members are vetted by police and must then pass a 10-module course which teaches observation skills, risk management and security awareness, among other things. They then ride along with Town Watch members, who assess their suitability.
“We basically are all just people who do it because we feel a need or obligation to give something back to the community,” Owen said. “We all are all part of the community.”
He said that at the end of each shift, the Town Watch team wrote a report about their observations. It helps police build a picture of the town’s nocturnal events.
Owen is hoping an influx of new members will mean a Friday night patrol is running again. People interested in joining Town Watch can email Ashburton.firstname.lastname@example.org