When Brandon and Krystol Wheeler moved to Oak Forest four summers ago, crime was a big problem and security was scarce.
The couple had one question for their new neighbors – how can we help?
Brandon, 30, and Krystol, 32, joined the Oak Forest Citizens Patrol, adding a new set of eyes and ears to a Citizens Patrol that had the same board members for 20+ years.
The Wheelers valued the leadership, experience and expertise from the longtime members, but they were able to modernize the Citizens Patrol with a Facebook page and new ideas, such as a home safety assessment and checklist.
“We absolutely appreciate the folks before us,” said Brandon, the Citizens Patrol president. “Richard Rabe is a wonderful source of institutional knowledge. He’s our treasurer now.”
The Wheelers make up two of the 12 Citizen Patrol participants, and they support the efforts of S.E.A.L.S., a private security firm that the Oak Forest Homeowners Association signed a contract with last November.
“S.E.A.L.S. and the Houston Police Department are the working hands of safety in the neighborhood,” Brandon said. “We’re the eyes and ears. We have to observe and report.”
Citizen’s Patrol members are required to attend a two-hour training session from HPD, where HPD officers emphasize that “observe and report” is the essence of a citizen’s patrol members. They also inform the Citizen’s Patrol members that they may not try to stop crimes or carry a firearm while on patrol.
Citizen’s Patrol members are asked to do at least one four hour shift per week, but some do as many as 20.
The Wheelers’ flexible schedules allows them to contribute to the Citizen’s Patrol. Brandon is a family therapist and counselor who owns his own practice, while Krystol – who grew up in Garden Oaks and graduated from Waltrip High – is the communications director for a non-profit.
“As our neighborhood has become safer, our Citizen’s Patrol (members) have dwindled,” Krystol said.
The CP meets monthly at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church on North Shepherd, and there’s always an educational component at the meetings.
“We also like to make a concerted effort to have a presence at OFHA events, and try to make sure we have a table there,” said Krystol, the former secretary of the OFHA board. “The only money that Citizen’s Patrol gets is donations made to the HOA (in care of the Citizen’s Patrol), which allows us to create supplies.”
HPD requires CP members to drive a vehicle, rather than patrol on foot or bicycle – for safety reasons.
Brandon said the CP’s work has paid off in several situations, where they were able to provide critical intelligence to S.E.A.L.S. and HPD.
“We’ve caught folks casing houses,” Brandon said. “We reported it. Even if we see a crime being committed, we can’t intervene.”
The Wheelers said they believe Oak Forest’s crime has decreased over the past four years due to the collaboration between HPD, S.E.A.L.S. and the CP.
Obviously, HPD will always be around, but Brandon said it’ll be important for both the CP and S.E.A.L.S. to maintain a presence in the neighborhood.
“Both are necessary – neither can patrol everything,” he said.