Some of the toughest neighborhoods in the country are those that are located in large inner-city urban areas. Citizens of these neighborhoods are often portrayed in the media as apathetic in the fight against crime and, in some cases, even sympathetic to those perpetrating the crimes. However, in some communities, angry citizens once polarized by the fear of crime have discovered a new tool to take back their streets. Their discovery coupled with a renewed resolve to fight back is one reason that crime rates across the country have diminished in recent years.
These brave men and women have found that by working together in groups to patrol their streets, they can deter crime. The largest of the organized citizen patrol groups is the Orange Hats, known for the orange baseball caps they wear as a sign of solidarity. Founded in 1988 by Ed Johnson in the Fairlawn section of Southeast Washington, DC, the Orange Hats have grown through replication throughout the District of Columbia and in communities across the country. Each Orange Hat group consists of 5-50 members who band together to walk the streets of their community during the evening enough to deter crime, they often do much more than just walk. They utilize camcorders to videotape drug dealers, write down the license plates of suspicious cards and stay in constant contact with walkie-talkies and cell phones.
While Johnson is acknowledged as the founder of the Orange Hats, Jim Foreman is generally given credit for popularizing and expanding the idea. Foreman was a member of Johnson’s patrol and as word of the Orange Hats’ success spread, other neighborhoods asked for assistance in initiating similar groups. Thanks to the efforts of Foreman, Eleanor Hill and many other leaders of this movement, more than 250 Orange Hat patrol groups across the country have been formed. Foreman often travels when he is requested to do so by concerned citizens interested in forming an Orange Hat patrol.
One example of his travels is a recent trip to El Paso, Texas, where at the request of the Justice Department, Foreman met with a group of citizens and provided them with the training they need to form a patrol group. Today, although there is no official count, membership in Orange Hat patrols is estimated to number more than 14, 000.
The Orange Hats have not yet put an end to crime, but they have made a difference in their own neighborhoods by discouraging drug dealing and crime in general. The citizens of Washington owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Foreman and to all those patrol group members who are making the effort to take back their streets.