It was a Friday night in Mountain View: Pedestrians dotted the sidewalks, the evening air buzzed with the sounds of distant traffic and playing kids and Bob Lincoln slipped on his bulletproof vest and climbed behind the wheel of his patrol car.
It’s been more than three years since Lincoln – a longtime neighborhood resident and deacon at Bethel Chapel – volunteered for the Mountain View Community Patrol. Since then, he’s spent countless nights cruising the neighborhood, watching for anything out of place. He’s handled everything from people laid low by booze to drivers in distress. While Lincoln said he often thinks about retiring from the post, he keeps at it.
“I think I’m making a difference,” he said. “I want to make a difference.”
When Lincoln and his wife moved into Mountain View for good more than 20 years ago, he said he remembers how drug dealers dotted neighborhood street corners, conducting illicit business in broad daylight. Once, he recalls, a man pulled open his passenger-side door at a stop sign, jumped into the front seat and began rattling off a list of substances for sale. Crime was “outrageous” then, Lincoln said, but the tide began to turn when the Anchorage Police Department began a new community policing program in fall 1995. Alaska Justice Center statistics show major crimes decreased that year.
Lincoln said his own interest in neighborhood work was piqued through his membership at Bethel Chapel, a 50-year-old congregation adjacent to the Boys and Girls Club, and AFACT, a faith-based community action group.
“Through that, I started caring,” he said.
That’s when things start to change, Lincoln said — when people start caring.
The Friday night patrol was pretty quiet. Before Lincoln pulled away from his home on Thompson Avenue, he paused to let a group of young boys make their way in front of his car with their bicycles. He smiled and waved and exchanged greetings; told them to have fun and stay safe. It’s a big part of his job.
“We’re the eyes and ears on the ground for our neighbors and for APD,” Lincoln said.
Driving slowly up and down the streets of north Mountain View Friday, he listened to the chatter of the police scanner over his smartphone and kept in touch with a second patrolman via a handheld radio clipped to his vest. He said he had started wearing the vest after seeing a red laser dot appear on his chest during an early patrol; because “if they’ll pull up and shoot an officer, they won’t hesitate to shoot me.” While he was the sole volunteer for nearly three years, Lincoln said he now had company after convincing a fellow deacon to join the group.
Lincoln made his way towards Meyer Street and then back east on McPhee Avenue, turning around to drive past a cluster of police cars and medics gathered in front on a nearby home. The scene was calm, and Lincoln kept driving.
Sometimes, he said the patrolmen help APD or the fire department by clearing access or blocking off streets – like in the case of a devastating apartment fire on Meyer Street last year. Other times, he said they can help by making a detailed report to police dispatch. Sometimes, they just stay out of the way. When Lincoln looped back down Thompson, the sidewalk across the street from his house was filled with officers and squad cars clustered around a man in a muddy blue shirt. But the chase was over, and Lincoln kept driving.
At the end of the day, he said patrolmen are just citizens with marked cars hoping to deter wrongdoers. It’s the community involvement that really makes a difference. And Lincoln said past crimes were prompting people to step up like never before.
“Because of what’s happened in the past, the neighbors have become stronger,” he said.
It was just last year Lincoln recalls driving near Mountain View Elementary School when he came across a handful of men sitting in lawn chairs on the curb, sights set on a house across the street. It was close to midnight. When Lincoln stopped to ask the men what was going on, he said they told him they had reached the end of their rope with the dealer across the street. The problem was so bad, they said they had gathered up the drug paraphernalia littering the street in front of his house, knocked on the man’s front door, handed over the garbage and demanded that he leave. And they told Lincoln they would sit in front of the dealer’s house until he did.
“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, you people are going to get hurt,’” the patrolman said.
But the move paid off. The dealer moved away.
“The neighborhood’s fighting back,” Lincoln said.
It’s a neighborhood to which he has deep family ties. Driving slowly up and down the streets Friday, Lincoln pointed out the apartment he and his wife had once lived in and managed, the little red cabin his father-in-law called home and an empty lot where another apartment building once stood. That’s where his son had been shot in the neck during an attempted robbery, Lincoln said. His son survived, but the building was eventually torn down. On another block, Lincoln cruised past the home his daughter was quickly outgrowing with her own family. He said he was expecting another grandchild this year; also his first great-grandchild. It kept him on patrol.
Lincoln said he and his wife used to enjoy neighborhood bike rides with their children, and as their family continues to grow, he said he wanted to keep up the tradition.
“I just want to keep it safe enough to go on bike rides with my grandkids,” he said.