Reflections on the Citizen Observer Patrol with Jo Darby

By Karalyn Colopy

Citizen Observer Patrol or COP is a national police program that uses a community-oriented strategy to improve neighborhood safety. In the early 2000s, the Durham Police Department (DPD) started a COP program here, training volunteers from various neighborhoods throughout District 2 to be Citizen Observers. Trinity Park Neighbor Jo Darby was a COP volunteer for a few years starting in 2010.

“The program was compelling because of Officer Hester,” Jo fondly remembered. Eric Hester was the instigator behind Durham’s COP program and kept it going for many years.  “He had a generous personality and could talk warmly with anyone. He really cared about people’s safety.”

After completing training in a variety of areas, volunteers took 4-hour shifts in the evenings, driving throughout the neighborhoods of District 2.  Jo said, “We would drive around in pairs in the COP squad car, wearing our uniforms, following a route laid out for us by Officer Hester, waving to kids, talking to folks, answering their questions.”  

Citizens could request a COP patrol to drive through areas with frequent theft or break-ins.  “Our presence would hopefully deter crime or at least make the residents feel seen and protected.  We didn’t have the authority take any particular action. We were just benevolent observers in a squad car,” Jo said.

COP volunteers also helped DPD with events like Bike Rodeos, gun-lock giveaways, and parades.  “I really liked the Bike Rodeos. And checking in on elderly folks,” Jo noted. COP patrols were sometimes asked to visit shut-ins or infirm neighbors.  “Once I went to check in on a woman on Buchanan Blvd. whom I had come to know well. She didn’t answer the door, and I figured out that she was inside but was hurt. I called 911, and they broke down her door. She had fallen and couldn’t get up.”

The COP program eventually faded away after Officer Hester left DPD, though there were a few stalwart volunteers who remained loyal to the program and continued to advocate for it to be funded.  Reflecting on her time with COP and also on the TPNA Safety Committee, Jo said, “Strong community is a good crime deterrent. That’s why I give out free herbs or plants from my garden when I can. I want people walking down the street – neighbors, visitors, strangers, students – to feel a sense of community here. I hope we can do more in Trinity Park to build that up.”

Advocacy, Health and safety, Neighborhood concerns