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Apr. 30, 2007 07:37 PM
By Joe Dana
His bat mobile is a Nissan X-Terra.
His weapon of choice is a cell phone.
He is Citizen Prime, an anti-crime activist on a mission reminiscent of The Guardian Angels, but with a comic book flair. A couple of nights a week, this valley business executive named Jim (I agreed to conceal his last name) dresses up as his invented superhero character, and patrols valley streets. When you meet him, you can’t help but notice his sincere enthusiasm and his incredibly well-crafted costume. Half embarrased, he admits the outfit cost about 4,000 dollars to create. It includes a silk cape, leather mask, and a steel-plated upper body shield designed by a professional armor maker.
On a Tuesday night in April, I followed Prime on a shift. As part of a recent effort to interact with the community more often, he spent a couple hours in the late evening strolling Mill Avenue in Tempe, mingling with the crowds.
While he introduces himself to passerby’s, he distributes a homemade pamphlet that describes his mission. His message can seem very simplistic.
“What would you do if you saw somebody fall in the street?” he asks a trio of college co-eds. “I’d help him out,” says one of them. “Exactly,” says Prime. “And that’s what heroes should do. They should be ready to help someone in need,” he says.
I wonder: Does he need to go through all of this work just to tell us that?
Prime points out that there is more. His pamphlet discusses ways to become involved in the community. He invites people to e-mail or call him if they “have a problem, or need help,” he says, (he’s quick to add that he doesn’t lend money.)
The other half of Citizen Prime’s mission involves driving in his car and looking for potential trouble. On this particular night, he trolls a neighborhood in the west valley near 51st Ave. and Indian School. The area is prone to property crime, prostitution and occasional robberies. “I’ve found that my mere presence in these areas, I’m hoping, makes a difference,” he says, as he drives slowly, surveying both sides of the street.
While on patrol, he has called police if he saw something or someone suspiscious. He’s also prepared take photos. He once guided police by phone to a drunk driver he spotted on the freeway. He also helped someone change a tire once. Prime admits his exact role in the community is still a work in progress. He’s trying to get into schools and hospitals to give inspirational messages to children.
In case Prime ever does see an actual crime or violence, his car is equipped with an electric stun gun, a police baton and a bean bag stun gun among other non-lethal gadgets. He’s never used them and says he hopes he never has to.
Our night on the streets ended quietly. No phone calls, photos or tazers needed.
The next morning, Prime sent me an E-mail. In it, he wrote that police pulled him over on the way home. The irony was not lost on him. A self-proclaimed superhero is caught speeding. You have to wonder if the body armor and cape helped him or hurt him in that moment.
Fortunately for Prime, he only received a warning. However, the officer advised the man in yellow to become certified by police for a citizen volunteer program. Something tells me, for Citizen Prime, that would be much too conventional.
Mayor Phil Gordon’s response to Citizen Prime
Apr. 30, 2007 07:47 PM
“Since becoming Mayor, I have given out over 3,000 front porch benches (not at taxpayer expense, by the way) to encourage people to be aware of what is going on in their neighborhoods. We can all help the police by being the “eyes and ears” of our community, but we should all be careful to do it smartly. Never purposefully put yourself in a dangerous situation. If you see something suspicious, don’t confront “the bad guys”. Call the police. That’s being hero enough.”
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