The eyes and ears of the police

Te Awamutu CommSafe have significantly improved their surveillance capabilities, and now they want the people power to go along with it.

From left, constables Simone Cowling, Andrew Howard, and Ryan Fleming with patrol co-ordinator, Johanna Tong.

The organisation works closely with police to help keep communities safe, they offer volunteer-based surveillance work and neighbourhood support services.

“We are their eyes and ears,” said Te Awamutu patrol co-ordinator, Johanna Tong.

CommSafe trustee Chris Smith says there are 13 council owned CCTV cameras between Te Awamutu and Cambridge, which CommSafe have monitored for two years.

But with the support of police and private camera owners, they have increased the number of CCTV cameras they have access to by more than 50.

“We now are able to view and look at the greater parts of the town,” Tong said.

The cameras were wired to CommSafe’s CCTV room in the Te Awamutu police station three weeks ago.

Constable Ryan Fleming says the cameras will be used in accordance with the Privacy Act.

“If you’re going to a place where there is an expectation of privacy, you are not going to be on camera.

“In a nutshell, you’ve got a shop, they might have a camera outside that is pointing towards their front door to capture people who are coming in and out, and there is a background of Alexandra Street… use it.”

CommSafe have also purchased a new Community Patrol car.

It is a 2022 Hyundai Venue, fitted with a dash camera, a police radio, hazard, and spotlights. It is also marked with the Community Patrol chevrons, similar to the markings on New Zealand Police cars.

“(It has) lots of new equipment that is much easier to use, so it’s very comfortable,” Tong said.

“The other car was quite small, it was older, the mileage had gotten up and it was really uncomfortable… it was a real bone shaker.”

CommSafe CCTV monitoring and Community Patrols are undertaken by volunteers. The organisation has 29 CCTV operators and 20 patrollers.

“The patrols and the cameras, they’re random… it can be at any time. That is the beauty of it, and having volunteers who are very passionate, they’re quite prepared to come in and do different times,” said Smith.

CommSafe community patrollers must always be in pairs and are assured a certain level of safety.

“The volunteers are always protected and safe. From a vehicle perspective, they’re not allowed to get out of the vehicle unless they’re confident they can look after themselves and the person they’re with,” said Smith.

CommSafe wants more volunteers to join, so they can make better use of their resources, increase surveillance coverage and community presence.

Volunteers undergo a police check, complete online modules, in-person training, and go through a probation period.

Fleming supports the relationship CommSafe has with police.

“I am really passionate about pushing this relationship we have, because we have a really good thing going… there is stuff that we miss that they pick up, and vice versa,” he said. “I’ve got kids here; I want to make this a neat place to live.”

He wants to see more people who are interested in joining the police volunteer for organisations like CommSafe.

They can contact Johanna Tong at tacpcommsafe@gmail.com

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