Stonehaven neighborhood anti-crime patrol founder Brian Lutes drives a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria police interceptor that he bought with his own money and donations from residents. It still has the paint job from its role as a patrol car. T. Ortega Gaines – email@example.com
On a recent January morning, Brian Lutes put the Ford Crown Victoria police interceptor in gear and let the car idle along the streets of Stonehaven.
As he drove, he looked at homes, yards and vehicles, stopping periodically to check on things.
A run-down car on the side of the road caught his attention. “Now, this is unusual,” he said, getting out of the cruiser. “Odds are it’s completely legitimate, but we check anyway.”
Lutes has most of the equipment that sworn police officers have, including a gun, handcuffs, a radio and a radar gun. T. Ortega Gaines – firstname.lastname@example.org
At another house, he spotted a parked van while the homeowners were at work. “I don’t recognize that van,” he said.
He worried about the elderly owner of a third home. “What’s with all these newspapers?” he said, pointing to a pile near the front door.
Lutes isn’t a police officer; he’s the founder and operator of the Stonehaven Community Patrol, a one-man volunteer crime-prevention force. He uses the training and experience he gained as a police officer and deputy state constable in Pennsylvania to provide patrols, crime alerts and safety tips free of charge.
“He has a definite stake in the community,” Sgt. Gregory Venn, Response Area 2 commander for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police’s Independence Division, said in an e-mail. He called Lutes “an added benefit to the community and the CMPD as he lives within the community, understanding its particular nuances and the residents who live and work there.”
Lutes and his wife, Michelle Locke-Lutes, moved to Charlotte in 2002. After living several years in a noisy apartment complex, they moved to Stonehaven, a quiet, sprawling neighborhood that stretches from Rama Road to McAlpine Creek Greenway.
Lutes, 42, founded the patrol in 2009 after glancing out a window at home to see a couple having sex in a car parked outside. “We’d seen some incidents in the neighborhood, but nothing major,” he said, “but that was it.”
He began his patrols by riding a bicycle but couldn’t cover enough territory. With help from donors, he rented a car for weekend patrols.
Finally, using additional donations and the proceeds from selling his motorcycle, he bought a 1998 Crown Victoria interceptor – still painted in the former department’s colors – and added magnetic signs identifying the Stonehaven patrol. Earlier this month, he bought a light bar that will be installed on the roof. The bar doesn’t have blue lights like CMPD vehicles, but instead has green and yellow safety lights and clear spotlights to help him see at night.
Lutes patrols at random times, when he’s not attending paralegal classes at South Piedmont Community College in Monroe. Sometimes he rides alone; at other times he’s accompanied by Michelle, who works at Nitsa’s Apparel in Phillips Place.
He wears a shirt with an embroidered logo and is equipped with pepper spray, radio, flashlight, handcuffs and pistol. (N.C. law doesn’t allow citizens’ arrests, Lutes says, but does permit citizens to detain suspects when they have probable cause to believe the suspects were involved in criminal acts.)
He focuses on Stonehaven but also patrols nearby neighborhoods, including Queen’s Grant and Rama Woods. He also goes across Rama Road to check areas of Sherwood Forest and the park near Rama Road Elementary School.
“I just can’t say enough about him,” said Bea DeCoste, a Stonehaven resident for 28 years. “He comes right out if there’s anything going on. And if we have a call to the police, he’s aware of it.”
Lutes checks vacant houses, drives by homes whose residents want regular patrols, and looks for popped car trunks, open garage doors and other signs of possible forced entry. He’s helped stop a drunken driver and aided a homeowner frightened by a stranger pounding on her door.
Much of his work involves checking reports of suspicious persons and vehicles. Most are false alarms, but he doesn’t mind. “We want people to call,” he said. “If the slightest thing seems suspicious, we want them to call.”
While Lutes doesn’t hesitate to approach strangers, he always calls Charlotte-Mecklenburg police when needed and urges residents to call 911 in case of emergency. “Brian has and is conducting his activities within legal bounds,” Venn says.
Lutes maintains a list of residents and their contact information, which helps him verify what strangers tell him and allows him to reach residents quickly. If he sets foot on private property, he leaves a calling card with the date and time and notes on what he observed.
Lutes also keeps patrol logs and shares information with CMPD, which honored his work by awarding him a Citizen Service Award last May.
But the accolades aren’t the reason he conducts his patrols. His goal is to make Stonehaven a safer place to live.
“CMPD doesn’t have time to do this level of detail,” he said. “Everything we do is something they don’t have to do.”