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Scanner Group hopes to equip citizen patrols with radios

The moderator of a Facebook group focused on local crime is seeking donations from its members to outfit a volunteer neighborhood watch program with radios.

Jackson County Scanner Group administrator and co-owner Ryan Mallory is seeking about $4,000 from donors for radio equipment that will be used by the Scanner Group’s Citizens Patrol, a group of screened volunteers. Citizens Patrol members are already on the streets keeping tabs on their own neighborhoods and 73 crime-ridden areas, then relaying suspicious activity to police.

“Watch and report — that’s all we do,” Mallory said.

Currently the 150 invitation-only patrol volunteers are “working by cellphone,” Mallory said, collaborating with a combination of Facebook messages and a smartphone GPS app. Mallory said he’d like to move to a radio system similar to what trucking companies use, citing volunteer safety.

“We need to keep our eyes up,” Mallory said. “We don’t want people tempted to use their phone while they’re driving.”

Volunteers uncomfortable or unable to patrol who “have great minds that want to participate” could take notes as dispatchers, he added.

Toward that end, Mallory plans to install a radio repeater on a volunteer’s property on Manor Hill, with the help of an “R&D” team that includes three HAM radio operators, a former electronics engineer, metal fabricators and database experts.

As of Thursday, there were 44,756 members of the Jackson County Scanner private Facebook group — meaning a moderator approves access.

“We assume as soon as we hit 50,000 people that we’ll have 50 percent of the adults paying attention,” Mallory said.

In comparison, Medford police’s popular Facebook page has about 41,000 people who “like” it.

Between the Jackson and Josephine counties pages, Scanner Group has a database of 100,000 people, according to Mallory. Within the two semi-public groups are two lesser-known ones: The Scanner Group Citizens Patrol and the Scanner Group Business Watch, consisting of 45 retail employees who can post surveillance footage of thefts that the main Scanner Group can share.

Mallory said the Citizens Patrol, as with other Scanner Group initiatives, is focused on aiding police and prosecutors’ cases — not taking the law into their own hands. Patrol volunteers only take notes, photographs and license plate numbers.

“All that gets put in a dossier and goes right to law enforcement,” Mallory said.

Jackson County sheriff’s Sgt. Julie Denney said the Sheriff’s Office welcomes the Citizens Patrol’s assists to law enforcement, saying it’s “always great to have extra eyes and ears in the community.”

“We absolutely appreciate the extra witnesses and people keeping an eye out for police,” Denney said.

Denney hadn’t heard of any issues with the patrols, but said she encourages anyone involved to step back and alert authorities if a situation gets unsafe.

“What we’re really hoping for is that people are good witnesses,” Denney said.

Some in the Citizens Patrol are just watching their own neighborhoods, but Mallory said every night there are others watching specific areas based on police and Scanner Group complaints, monitoring suspected drug houses, transient camps and neighborhoods recently hit by burglaries.

“They can’t just go pick an address and start watching,” Mallory said, describing a degree of probable cause.

The patrol sometimes watches repeat offenders, such as when they kept police abreast of former BLM fire officer Allen Dale Mitchell Sr.’s whereabouts. Mitchell has been lodged since Jan. 15 in the Jackson County Jail on nine pending felony cases charging him with first-degree theft, first-degree burglary, third-degree robbery and delivering heroin — partially because Scanner Group posts urged members to call prosecutors.

“It’s not so much that the squeaky wheels get the grease,” Mallory said. “It gives the public a voice.”

Mallory said that patrol volunteers parked in a west Medford neighborhood pressured at least one suspected drug house to move out of the area following Scanner Group requests.

Patrol volunteers saw people wearing hoodies riding their BMX bikes over, spending five minutes and then coming out the front door “staggering high.” As the patrol volunteers’ presence grew more frequent, the residents started covering their windows with cardboard and aluminum foil, then waving people away from the door.

“Then what we see later is, they move out,” Mallory said.

People interested in patrolling can apply at www.scannergroup.com, but Mallory said it’s up to a team of 25 volunteers to approve applicants, who look at factors that include criminal history and personal references.

“We definitely don’t want somebody doing patrol with two violent felonies,” Mallory said. “Or somebody that their own friends would describe as a hothead.”

Anyone interested in making a donation to help with the purchase of the radio equipment can go to http://ScannerGroup.com/donate.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Members of the Scanner Group joined with city employees and others in a “Take Back the Community” rally in Medford's Alba Park in June. The group is now raising money to purchase radio equipment. [Mail Tribune / file photo]