Park Ridge Citizens Patrol volunteer earns crime-prevention honor
Tom Wilson, a member of the Park Ridge Citizens Patrol, was recently recognized by a state organization for his volunteer work. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
NAME: Tom Wilson
BEST KNOWN AS: 2012 Senior Volunteer of the Year
HOMETOWN: Park Ridge
Updated: November 7, 2012 11:14AM
PARK RIDGE — Tom Wilson never had dreams of carrying a gun and badge, but from his work with the Park Ridge Police Department you wouldn’t know it.
Wilson is an active member of the Park Ridge Citizens Patrol, a volunteer initiative giving residents an opportunity to assist police officers by driving around the city at night and reporting any suspicious or criminal activity they find.
“The camaraderie between the Police Department and our group, it’s kind of unheard of,” said Wilson, an 11-year member of the patrol and 12-year resident of the city.
Wilson’s leadership on the Citizens Patrol, as well as with the Park Ridge Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) earned him a 2012 Senior Volunteer of the Year award recently from the Illinois TRIAD, an organization promoting crime prevention for seniors.
“I’m kind of humbled,” Wilson, 70, said of the honor. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been recognized for doing something like this.”
Wilson, who worked for many years in information technology, was “looking for something to do to give back to the community” following his retirement when he met a member of the Citizens Patrol. After riding with some of the volunteers, he decided to join.
Patrol members use their own vehicles to drive the Police Department’s five designated police beats. They travel in pairs and patrol four times each month with a shift lasting about 4 hours. There are more than 40 volunteers now involved, Wilson said.
“We’ll patrol, looking for things that are out of place, like if it’s 11 o’clock at night and a garage door is open,” he explained.
Each volunteer is given radio he or she can use to call in a matter to police, whether it’s an open door, youth in a park after dark or a burglary in process. The members are also called to accident scenes to help direct traffic and will stand by a crime scene while it is being investigated by police.
“If we have a storm, we respond to that,” Wilson added. “If wires are down or streets are closed we cover those things so the Police Department and the Fire Department doesn’t have to sit on the scene.”
When lightning caused a house fire in August, Wilson was there to assure the owner, worried about his valuables inside, that two volunteers would remain on the scene through the night.
“The guy couldn’t have been more thankful,” Wilson recounted. “That’s what makes this worthwhile.”
When Park Ridge established a local CERT program, Wilson joined that, as well. He is now the logistics officer, which means he is responsible for all the equipment the volunteer group uses for emergency situations, from barricades to generators and first aid kits.
CERT has responded during times of severe weather and a citywide power outage. When Chicago hosted the NATO convention and Metra commuters were told they would not be able to carry bags or luggage on board trains, Wilson was among the CERT members stationed at the city’s train depots to act as eyes and ears for police officers and report anything unusual or problematic.
Wilson especially likes going on ride-alongs with Park Ridge police officers. He also doubles as a member of the Parent Patrol, which responds to gatherings where underage drinking is suspected to have occurred, and that allows him to further work with the officers he admires.
“They want us — they want the Citizens Patrol,” Wilson said of the police. “When you come on the scene to take their place and they take off, there’s thanks for you coming out.”
When not volunteering with the local police Wilson enjoys working his basement wood shop where he has built furniture, including the book cases and mantle in his home. He and his wife, Jo Ann, have four children and seven grandchildren.