Voices of Cody Rouge: Warrendale's volunteer radio patrol helps keep the area clean and safe

Joe and Barb Matney are lifelong residents of Warrendale. But in 2009, they noticed an uptick of crime in their neighborhood. Instead of leaving the city or ignoring the problem, they started patrolling the neighborhood. 

Then, while out on patrol, they'd clean up trash when they saw it and take keep general tabs on the neighborhood. In 2014, they helped start an official radio patrol in Warrendale. 

In their time on the patrol, they have called in arsonists, illegal dumpings, and blighted properties, among other issues. 

Barb and Joe both grew up in the neighborhood and have devoted a majority of their time to improving Warrendale. They know it's a drop in a bucket, but documenting every bit of blight they see and doing cleanups are all small steps towards a better neighborhood.

"A lot of things have gone bad," Barb says, "but this community is worth saving."

Barb preps in her kitchen before starting the patrol.

Barb checks in with Gary Cook, their base operator and another neighborhood volunteer, on the radio before getting in their car. While on patrol, they check in with Cook every 15 to 20 minutes.

Joe Matney takes on the role of "driver" while Barb is his "observer." All radio patrols require both a driver and observer.

On a Thursday morning in September, their patrol is fairly quiet. The most prolific issue they document is bulk trash put out on a non-bulk pick up week. Every huge pile of trash they drive past, Barb writes down on her clipboard and Joe calls out the address.

Another issue that the couple finds particularly annoying is overgrown alleys behind businesses on West Warren Avenue. It ends up being cheaper for businesses to let their alleys get overgrown until the city fines them, rather than manage it throughout the year and keep the area presentable.

On top of calling in illegal activities in real time, Barb rights down any violation with the address where it takes place. She later uploads all of her findings in the Improve Detroit app.

"We're not out to get people tickets," Barb says. "We just want it cleaned up."

Barb photographs a leaning tree to upload to Improve Detroit. She suspects that some heavy machinery bumped into it during a house demolition. It's tall enough to damage the house across the street if it falls over.

A radio patrol sign in front of In Memory of Community Garden, which Barb and Joe built and tend to.

Barb calls in to the base operator and takes some last minute notes before finishing their drive.

A neighborhood watch sign in one of Barb and Joe's home windows.

This article is part of "Voices of Cody Rouge," a series that showcases the authentic stories of residents, community stakeholders, and local organizations helping to create and shape positive transformation in the Cody Rouge neighborhood of Detroit. This series is made possible with support from Quicken LoansIFF, and the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance
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Read more articles by Nick Hagen.

Nick Hagen is a Detroit-based photographer and the managing photographer of Model D. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg Businessweek, Buzzfeed News, and Politico.