They are there day and night, even when you don’t see them. They’re in your alley or cruising in front of your house. They notice all the places where your security is less than tight. They know your vulnerabilities.


But don’t panic. They’re not professional thieves; they’re V.I.P.s. The V.I.P.s, or Volunteers in Patrol,  are 25 men and women in the Lake Highlands Village West neighborhood who have completed a police-sponsored training course to provide non-confrontational patrol of neighborhood alleys and streets. Teams of two cruise in two-hour shifts, using their own vehicles with magnetic glow-in-the-dark V.I.P. signs attached for identification.


J.C. Reneau, former chairman of the group, explains how the patrol works:  "We wear white shirts and caps with the V.I.P. insignia so people will recognize us if we have to come to their front door. We look for garage doors or back gates open, people lurking in alleyways or in the streets who look suspicious, or anything else that doesn’t look right.


ÒIf your garage door is open, for instance, we’ll either call you to alert you or come to your door. If we see a suspicious person, we call 911 on the mobile phone Ð we never approach them directly."


Volunteers must go through a nine-hour training course at the police department before taking the streets for the patrol. According to Reneau, about 75 percent of the members are retired, and some volunteer to patrol as couples. Many have lived in the neighborhood for 30 years or more and raised families there.


The area known as Lake Highlands Village West is bounded by White Rock Trail, Church Road, Audelia and Kingsley and includes 488 homes. "We started in 1996 with 12 volunteers," Reneau says, "and now have 25. Our goal is to have 48, or 10 percent of the homeowners." Although all the work is volunteer, the group accepts donations to defray the cost of signs, clothing and mobile phones.


Retired from a career in wholesale sales, Reneau is enthusiastic about the Lake Highlands V.I.P.s. "This is a wonderful neighborhood with great people. The V.I.P.s are a close-knit group, an agreeable group. We have monthly meetings and get together once a year for dinner with the members and their spouses.


"We are the eyes and ears of the police department. This gives us the opportunity to take action to reduce crime in our neighborhood and promote a good quality of life for everyone. As a matter of fact, since we started, crime in our area has been drastically reduced."


The police department gives enthusiastic support to the V.I.P.s. Sergeant Tony Crawford of the Northeast Substation Crime Prevention Unit emphasizes, "Without neighborhood involvement there would be no crime prevention. Crime prevention is a team effort between police officers and citizens. If you get to know your neighbors you know when something’s wrong.


ÒWe can’t just bury our heads in the sand and think that the police will take care of everything."