The group also conducts home surveillance. A few years ago, when a woman suspected an intruder coming and going in her home, she called police, who told her to call the patrol, Schachter said. The group set up surveillance cameras and discovered her apartment's maintenance supervisor viewing pornography on her computer.

The patrol also has a victims assistance program. Project Recourse tracks neighborhood criminal cases through the court system. Patrol members escort crime victims to court to protect them from intimidation during hearings. Members have put witnesses in hotels to protect them, and they push the court system to pursue prosecutions.

They doggedly track all major cases in their neighborhood. Although the family of Esther Lebowitz has long since moved away, Schachter still attends and testifies at the parole hearings of Wayne Stephen Young, who killed the 11-year-old in 1969.

"We as the Northwest Citizens Patrol don't want him on the street," Schachter said.

Because of an unusual spate of robberies in Upper Park Heights, the patrol recently beefed up its monitoring there.

As members drove through the community, the radio crackled. Officer Bennett told patrol members bluntly that they ought to be on the lookout for suspicious black teens, ages 16 and 18, wearing sweat pants and with scarfs covering their faces.

"I'm not shy about saying that," he reiterated over the radio.

Racial conflicts flare up in the neighborhood every so often. In 2010, a 23-year-old former Israeli special forces soldier who was part of Shomrim, an Orthodox Jewish civilian patrol group that also monitors Northwest Baltimore streets, followed a 15-year-old black teen, hit him with a walkie-talkie and, along with others, held him down for several minutes. This summer, the Shomrim member was sentenced to three years of probation for second-degree assault and false imprisonment.

Schachter makes it clear that his group is not affiliated with Shomrim.

"I know what we do," he said. "I don't know what anyone else does. As I mentioned, we never get out of the car to get involved."

He said his group, for the most part, has escaped racial tensions because of that fact. He also said many black residents support the group and contribute to NWCP's annual fundraising drives.

"We've never had any kinds of race wars with anyone here," he said.

Oscar Cobbs, a 30-year resident of Park Heights, agreed. The 66-year-old black retiree, who lives in a rowhouse flanked by boarded-up homes, worked with patrol members to set up a similar program for his mostly black neighborhood. It failed because of a lack of unity, but he said he hasn't given up.

"They were very helpful," Cobbs said. "As far as what they do in their community, they're great. We wanted to replicate the commitment of their religious community with our community and be as committed as they are."

Part of the reason Cobbs wanted to start his own group was because the Northwest Citizens Patrol limits monitoring to areas above Northern Parkway, which is a rough dividing line between black and Jewish neighborhoods.

"Believe it or not, they pretty much stick to themselves," said Keno Berry, 46, last week as he stood across from Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., which helps Jewish people with neighborhood housing.

"They don't bother anyone," said Berry, who is black and has lived in the community on and off for 20 years. "But I think they turn a blind eye to the black community and pay attention to their own."

His friend Robert Bass, 26, who lives nearby, agreed.

"If I get in an altercation, personally," he said, "I don't think they'd come to protect or come to the rescue."

Schachter disagreed, saying his group is committed to the safety of anyone in its jurisdiction, often extending its various services at community center meetings where the majority of attendees are black.

The night wore on as the patrol continued. Patrol cars found little suspicious, often passing by each other on the quiet streets. At one point, the radio barked with a patrol member saying he saw a youth with a hoodie and face mask. It turned out to be nothing.

Arthur Marks, 57, a Northwest Citizens Patrol member, rode in his family's Ford Taurus, using the opportunity to teach his 19-year-old daughter to drive while he kept one eye out for trouble.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

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