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They have seen it all: Night after night, Stonewall Citizens' Patrol keeps the community safe

Editor's note: San Diego Gay & Lesbian News kicked off a program at the start of 2011 to inspire community members to give back to the charities and nonprofit organizations that help those most in need. Each month, SDGLN will feature one of the 12 organizations we have chosen to spotlight this year through a series of articles highlighting the history, needs and success stories of the organization. March's featured organization is the Stonewall Citizens' Patrol. Today, Staff Writer Ben Cartwright shares his account of a "ride-a-long" with the patrol, highlighting the important community safety work its volunteers do into the wee hours of the night.

SAN DIEGO -- Stonewall Citizens' Patrol (SCP) volunteers like to say that they are the volunteers who work the latest hours in town. While most volunteers who give their time to organizations like The Center are home sleeping, SCP volunteers are just starting their shifts.

With shifts typically running from 9 pm to 3 am Fridays and Saturdays, the volunteers see a different side of Hillcrest and other Uptown neighborhoods as they patrol the streets hoping to do their part to keep the community safe.

As a longtime SCP volunteer myself, I decided to take the "back seat" on a recent shift and just observe as my regular patrol partner, Ricky Cervantes, drove the vehicle and looked for people in need.

We took the recognizable SCP vehicle out for a special 9 pm to midnight shift on "Fat Tuesday."

Hillcrest and surrounding communities are particularly "busy" each year on this evening as revelers celebrate and overindulge in everything Mardi Gras. After picking up the vehicle from its storage location in the parking lot of The Center, we took our first loop down the Hillcrest portion of University Avenue, heading toward the Hillcrest Mardi Gras celebration on University between First and Fourth avenues.

As we turned left onto Fourth Avenue, we were immediately flagged down by a man who told us that his friend had drunk too much and would not be able to make it home. We drove the vehicle to the intersection where his friend was sitting on the curb. After making sure that he did not seem to need medical attention or would vomit all over the vehicle, we agreed to give him a lift home.

Just in case, we gave him a bag in case he started to vomit, which did happen about halfway along the trek to his house in North Park. After getting this gentlemen home, we continued on.

Heading back into Hillcrest, we saw another edition of what I like to call the "Shopping Cart Olympics." It seems that drunk people, especially in Hillcrest, like to hop into shopping carts that are strewn around the community and have their friends push them down the street at high speeds. While it is not the job of SCP to "police" the neighborhood, we pulled over and reminded the group that what they were doing was not safe and if a police officer does come by, they may not take too kindly to their fun.

This particular group seemed a bit frightened to be approached by us, but obliged, apologized and actually calmly pushed their carts back to the Uptown District Shopping Center to return them to their proper place.

Other groups that we approach with our safety messages aren't always so kind.

At La Fuente Taco Shop on University Avenue, now nationally known for its late night drag-queen brawls, we spotted a young woman pulling a bottle of vodka out of her purse and sharing it with her particularly young-looking group of friends. We approached to observe for a few minutes and heard one young woman in the group talking about how she was only 18 years old.

After hearing this, we decided to remind the youngsters that what they were doing was illegal and that if police come by, they could get in some major trouble, especially the young woman who was serving alcohol to minors.

They did not take heed to our warnings. The young woman with the vodka bottle started screaming at us, saying that we were not "real cops" and we should mind our "own f***ing business." We calmly reminded the group that we are simply trying to help, keep them safe and out of trouble, but this did not please her. So we thanked her and moved on.

We later saw the police in front of La Fuente and noticed the officers citing this same young woman.

For most of the rest of the night, we just cruised around keeping our eyes and ears open for anyone who looked like they might be in trouble, but most importantly, to just create a presence. One of the most important things that SCP does is create a visible presence in the community to deter criminals and also to let community members know that help is are not too far away if they need it.

Just before the midnight shift turnover, we cruised through the Uptown District Shopping Center to remind people that the shopping center has a zero-tolerance policy for public parking and has authorized a brigade of tow trucks to remove the vehicles of people who are not patronizing stores in the shopping center (which would only be Ralphs after 10 pm). We warned about five or six groups of people, who all moved their cars, which hopefully saved them from being towed.

Every night on the patrol is very different, but what I have learned is that SCP volunteers truly care about making sure that people in the community are safe in the late-night hours, no matter how intoxicated or disrespectful they may be.

A few times throughout the night, some passers-by gave us a "thumbs up" or mouthed the words "thank you" to us which, I'm told by other SCP volunteers, is one of the most rewarding parts of the job ... to know that the community appreciates their help.

To make a pledge to the Stonewall Citizens' Patrol, click HERE.