The police always need the public’s help, but not just any kind of help, which is why involving neighborhood watch groups in law enforcement efforts can be awkward and even dangerous.
As Pocomoke Police Chief William Harden told a gathering of citizens last week, public involvement in protecting the community is vital to the department’s success. But just as the citizen vigilance is beneficial to those efforts, another set of problems can develop for the department if that vigilance becomes aggressive or careless.
That last thing any department would want is for a citizen to get hurt just trying to help. Neither would a law enforcement agency want to end up on the legal hook for tacitly underwriting what would amount to an untrained auxiliary police force.
It isn’t that concerned residents aren’t good people, but the difficulty is that no top law enforcement official can endorse an operation by a group of individuals whose mindset he or she doesn’t know.
Obviously, on-the-job-training is out of the question, and proper training takes time and money, with the latter being in short supply.
The situation in Pocomoke, as it is in many other communities, is frustrating for everyone. People want to stop crime, the police want their assistance, but sworn as they are to protect the citizenry, they are obligated to exercise a great deal of caution.
The best thing the public can do, as Chief Harden advised, is to keep a sharp eye out, call the police if something appears to be wrong, and then let law enforcement take it from there.
It isn’t a perfect answer, but it’s the best one available under the circumstances.