A Tour of Duty
They begin their evenings with a list of probationers who have been identified by their probation officers as potentially high-risk individuals. With the police officers functioning as backups for the probation officer, they make approximately 10 to 15 visits a night. Many times the probationer is not home, and they have to return on another evening. Sometimes a relative will let them look in the probationer's room, and sometime that will lead to unexpected findings. Recently a mother, convinced her son was not violent, let the officers in his room. They came out with a rifle, two banana clips, two daggers, and a bag filled with a gram of the drug Ecstasy.
Home visits can also unexpectedly turn violent. Two officers were injured during the past year. The home visits can also often be interrupted by other police calls. On one evening, a call came out for a robbery that had just occurred. Within seconds the Nightwatch team was at the scene, checking the surrounding streets. Their roles abruptly changed as Probation Officer Nesdall became a backup for the two police officers/
Asked about having a probation officer working with them, Officer Walsh said, "It can depend on the probation officer. We don't worry about Dick. He is not a hindrance. He is an extra guy. You can get a little more done with three. It is also a learning experience for the search and seizure laws. They do not have the training that we do. We can run into other situations where there is no justification to go into the house."
Officer Walsh went on to explain: "We get informants from them. They can work out deals. If someone is on probation you can stop them on the street and he can search them.
"This opportunity for probation and police to get results that could not be achieved prior to the conception of this program," said Officer Nesdall.
According to the Officer Walsh, the effectiveness of house visits can be short-lived. "they now know you are coming. I prefer the street stops. Roosevelt is a thigh knit community. Someone gets arrested, everyone may not be like that."
Working with police officers out on the street can be an enlightening experience for the probation officer. "We usually don't work at night," said Officer Nesdall. "It is at night that these areas turn into a reality we had no knowledge of."
"When they (probationers) show up for their probation appointment they will be on their best behavior. The probation officer does not see them in their environment," said Officer Walsh. "It's a giving of information back and forth- sharing information. Probation probably gives us more than we give them."
"They talk to probation more than they will talk to us," said Officer Mangiamele.
"If they are seen talking to us on the street they will be labeled a rat," he added. But when they visit their probation officer he can lighten upon them. That is the best part of it," he added.
Expanding the Reach
The mayor of Hempstead Village first brought Nightwatch to the village and the county. Mayor James Garner said he considers the program to be an unqualified success.
"It has helped us clean up here in Hempstead. I think the program is great, excellent, the best ever done as far as law enforcement."
Sgt. Frank Edwards, the coordinator for Nightwatch in the village said the program is "another tool for our patrol force.
"We are making visits in the community and people are seeing us coming out in force. They know we are making them accountable. We are now also more conscious to ask if they are on probation."
Sgt. Edwards went on to explain, "I don't have a problem getting on the phone and asking who the probation officer is. I will then call the officer and tell him, for example that I saw this guy hanging out with five other guys in a backyard. They walked away but I know they were doing cocaine. When we looked around we found $1,000 worth of crack, but no one was standing close enough to charge them.
"I checked out who was there, found out who was on probation and called the probation officer. I told him that I had reasonable, suspicion to believe that it was his stash of drugs. His probation officer then can give him closer supervision and check his urine. If it came back positive, he wouldn't give any slack."
Sgt. Edwards said there are many situations where the program has helped. "For example, if you have a family fight and a guy is giving the officers a rough time. We can ask him if he is on probation. It helps out."
In Hempstead, the program has resulted in 16 arrests, and the confiscation of three handguns, seven rifles, four daggers, one billy club, two combat knives, assorted other knives, and numerous boxes of assorted ammunition.
The legality of the programs such as Nightwatch has been reaffirmed in numerous courts.