BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Jean Smoak, a 70-year-old great-grandmother, made her way across the parking lot of her senior housing complex on a recent Friday night with her cane in hand, looking out for drug dealers and prostitutes.
The dealers, she said, cruise down Black Rock Avenue from Park Avenue in their “fancy sports cars” and stop by the lot’s entrance, where they reach out their car windows and exchange drugs for cash.
Smoak, a retired health care worker, said she’s fed up. She’s been jotting down license plate numbers, which the leader of her senior crime watch group plans to pass along to police.
“When they come and do that, other dangerous things can happen,” she said of the dealers. “The person that is waiting for it can come and steal money from people coming into the building.”
Smoak has also been taking notes on the dates and times she sees prostitutes on the corner, suspecting that some stray from a nearby homeless shelter.
“They come out with their Daisy Dukes and short skirts and tights,” she said, “and they’re standing there like they’re talking to themselves and they wait for a car to drive by.”
Smoak is one of 10 members on the Silver Crime Patrol at the Eleanor, a 63-unit, low-income senior housing complex on Park Avenue on Bridgeport’s west end.
In a city that has long struggled in its fight against violent crime, the volunteer program has strengthened the relationship between some of its most vulnerable residents and the police officers charged with protecting them. The patrol group at the Eleanor formed in January, but the Silver Crime Patrol program first launched 13 years ago at some other complexes. In addition to the Eleanor, there is a patrol of about two dozen members at Clifford House, a 100-unit, low-income senior housing complex on Main Street.
Domica Skipworth, the resident service coordinator for the building, who coordinates the patrol, said she reminds the volunteers not to intervene if they see something suspicious.
“Their safety is important,” she said. “If they see something in action, they’re not supposed to react on that. They’re not cops.”
The patrol has benefited from some instruction from police, who led a class last month on how to give a proper statement if they witness a crime. Members share safety tips with residents, reminding them not to show wads of cash, take only what they plan to spend when they visit the corner store and use the buddy system.
Patricia Carter, 65, a resident who depends on a motorized wheelchair, played spades around 9 o’clock that night in the activities room, where other seniors were watching professional wrestling on TV. Carter said she has felt safer with the patrol around.
“We’re a senior citizen complex with a lot of elderly to be preyed on,” she said. “People can jump us and rob us and what not.”
The latest mystery around the complex: Who has been turning off the lights every night on the fourth floor?
Smoak and other patrol members are on the case.
"Someone keeps cutting the light off, so this is what we’ve been watching lately,” Smoak said. “These are elderly people in here and there’s young people coming in and out visiting. Maybe there’s a reason they’re cutting the light off.”
She hopes the patrol will serve as a deterrent.
“Even our residents that might have been doing something they shouldn’t have done, now they’re more aware that someone’s watching them.”