By Jon Meoli, email@example.com
2:07 PM EDT, April 30, 2012
Everywhere members of the Towson Area Citizens on Patrol went on Friday night, they made a difference.
If nothing else, the spinning orange light on top of their vehicle caused the throngs of college students who were walking to their next stop on Friday night — the first night of TigerFest weekend — to slow their strolls and wonder what exactly was passing them by.
"Is that a taxi?" one student asked as the car passed him.
Others looked at each other wondering what it was. It wasn't the police, per se — though they were out in force as well — but their motive was the same.
"In some respect, it's kind of silly rolling around with your orange light out, but I hope it will make them reconsider and go elsewhere," said Mike Calwell, a Rodgers Forge resident who is currently the president of the Towson Area Citizens on Patrol.
"The hope is if they see the neighborhood patrolling, they'll say 'I don't want to risk it.' "
Calwell, 41, was riding shotgun in the car of Roger Proehl, 74, Friday night beginning around 10:30 p.m.
Proehl, who lives in the Ridgely Condominiums and is one of two active members of the Downtown Towson Citizens on Patrol, lamented the student presence in the East Towson neighborhoods as the patrol began.
"Wouldn't you hate to live in an apartment like this with students?" he asked as the car passed the Donnybrook Apartments.
Calwell, who works in information technology (and admitted he may have missed his calling in not becoming a police officer), said he's been receiving more inquiries about what they do in the wake of last month's killing of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman.
Calwell said he believes George Zimmerman, Martin's shooter, broke two of the primary rules of citizen policing: — he pursued the person and had a firearm.
Baltimore County police provide a workshop at their resource office for those who wish to participate in Citizens on Patrol, where Calwell, who also recently completed the FBI Citizens Academy, said, "They walk you through staying safe and doing this the right way."
"You can only observe and report," Proehl said. "That's really important."
On Friday, the task was mostly observing. The ride began through some of the East Towson apartments and continued through downtown and up into the Kenilworth Drive area.
There was a heavy Baltimore County Police presence in the area, thanks in part to a grant from Towson University to the county police to fund extra patrols. Just across from the entrance to Towson High School off Aigburth Road, officers were questioning two men outside of their vehicles.
When the Citizens on Patrol vehicle went by by the newly reopened Charles Village Pub, it passed a police car parked outside.
"Look at all the cops," Calwell said. "This is great."
A ride down Kenilworth Drive returned little action, and on the way back through downtown Towson, five squad cars waited at a light on Pennsylvania Avenue.
It was just before 11 p.m. when Calwell said increased patrols around the area would end for the night.
Back across York Road on the corner of Garden Road and Aigburth Road, the Citizens on Patrol vehicle passed a group of 20 or so students standing on the corner.
They gawked, but Calwell said they weren't doing anything wrong.
"Kids are going to be kids," he said. "You can't fault them for having a good time."
But ultimately, there's a fine line between a good time and crime. Early Friday night, the Towson students celebrating TigerFest weekend were staying on the side of a good time.
"I like to think the heavy police presence has something to do with it," Calwell said.