Making Their Presence Felt
PICTURED ABOVETony Frederick, president of the Madisonville Police Department Citizens Police Unit, posed on a downtown street corner. The MPD has utilized its CPU for many years and in 2017, saw a cost savings of $19,500. (Photo by Jim Robertson)
Every year, law enforcement agencies are tasked with a myriad of duties. Oftentimes, those duties result in overtime, and, as a result, department budgets and manpower are stretched thin.
Madisonville, for example, is home to several yearly events – 5Ks, concerts and the like – and the police department provides coverage for all of those happenings. Working those activities could result in excessive overtime hours if it weren’t for a special group of dedicated people – the Citizens Police Unit.
The CPU is made up of volunteers who have graduated from MPD’s Citizens Police Academy and assist the department in providing a presence for the aforementioned events.
According to MPD Lt. Andy Rush, in 2017 the CPU assisted the department with 16 events, totaling 552 man-hours and saving the department overtime dollars.
“If we filled those (events) with officers, it would have cost us $19,500 in overtime in 2017 alone,” Rush said. “That is just in 2017; we’ve had this group since 2008.”
Aside from 5Ks and concerts, the CPU also assists the department during the county fair with fingerprinting children and serving the officers who were assigned to the fair with food and helping out wherever needed.
In August 2017, the population of Madisonville was doubled as spectators from across the globe traveled to the area to view the rare total eclipse, and CPU members were on the front lines with officers.
“We had 20,000 additional people here,” Rush said. “During the eclipse, we mapped out the city and had different viewing sites. We stationed CPU members at the different sites, along with officers and dispatchers. The main core of the CPU members were at the city park – we have a big city park here.”
As a result of the CPUs efforts, Rush said the event was fairly seamless and traffic issues were minor.
Some 260 miles to the northeast, another group of volunteers make life easier for the Alexandria Police Department.
The members of the APD Volunteers in Police Services help that agency in many ways, Police Chief Mike Ward said.
“We have volunteers who come out and help us direct traffic on serious accidents, and they do a lot of our vacation and business checks … they’re kind of an extra eye and ear on the road for us.”
The VIPS are also active in the area schools. This came about following the December 2012 Newtown, Conn., school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“We started the VIPS in Schools program soon afterward,” Ward said.
The program has received rave reviews, said Susan Rath, principal at John W. Reiley Elementary School in Alexandria.
“They are at school before the buses arrive and they leave after the last bus departs,” she said. “It gives not only the parents peace of mind, but also our students and staff have peace of mind.”
Training and Background
When the department utilizes volunteers, picking the right ones and providing the needed training is key, Ward said.
Alexandria does not require its VIPS members to be graduates of the countywide Citizens Police Academy. Rather, his agency conducts an intensive 40-hour training course for volunteers.
“(CPA) is more familiarizing people with what it is [police officers] do,” Ward said. “With VIPS, we’re familiarizing them with what we do, and we explain why we do things a certain way.”
After receiving the 40 hours of training, VIPS do everything from traffic control to assisting at crime scenes.
“We’ve used them at crime scenes where we didn’t have enough personnel, and we roped it off and put a volunteer at the front for the log entries – who is coming in and who is leaving (the scene).”
According to APD Sgt. Natalie Selby, the training covers a wide spectrum of topics. The topics range from crisis intervention to radio procedures.
“Last month, I talked to them about crisis intervention,” she said. “The month before that, we had a refresher on vehicle lockouts.”
Madisonville’s CPU meets on the fourth Monday of each month, CPU president Tony Frederick said.
“If there is a need for training, that is when it happens,” he said.
In the June 2018 meeting, Rush said the group received active-shooter training.
“It’s something that has been on everyone’s radar,” Rush said. “They were trained on what people do or talk about during an active-shooter situation – whether you’re at an event, a church or a store. We presented the training to the CPU because they’re out on these events with us.”
Both agencies do an extensive background check on volunteers.
“We want to make sure that the people we have within the walls of the police department are good people,” Rush said. “We’re actually teaching police tactics, and we want to make sure we’re aware of who we have and who we’re talking to.”
In Alexandria, Selby said volunteers go through the same process as those applying to become police officers, minus the Peace Officers Professional Standards. They undergo an extensive background check, drug testing and for those serving in the schools, a polygraph is required.
There are a number of reasons why people volunteer. For many, like Alexandria’s Denny Newberry, it’s a way to serve the community.
“We’re not doing this for the glory,” Newberry said. “I get great enjoyment out of it. I feel like I’m doing my part, and we’re here to help.”
It also helps to have a mindset of service going in, Madisonville’s Frederick said.
“There are days that I don’t want to come up here and volunteer because it’s pouring down rain, and events like our Christmas parade … it’s usually ice cold,” he said. “So you have to be dedicated and committed to it.”
Many of the volunteers have a great deal of life experience and come from different walks of life. Some are retired, and others, like Alexandria’s Rodney Henson, are business owners who simply have a heart for helping.
“I own a business, but I give every Friday (at the schools) that I can,” Henson said. “After the Newtown shootings, it really just tore me up.”
Utilizing volunteers is a win-win for both the agency and the volunteer, Rush said. The volunteer has a sense of satisfaction of helping their community while the agency reaps a cost-savings benefit, Rush said.