Police Volunteers: The Gifts That Keep on Giving

By Stephen Owsinski

Given that we are in the season of giving thanks and gifting those we deem important and deserving, our nation’s volunteers top the list, specifically those who show up at America’s law enforcement stations, roll up their sleeves, and get to work on behalf of the community.

Days before Thanksgiving, I came across a poignant story about a gentleman who dedicated two decades of his life in voluntary service to his local police department, the Willimantic PD in Connecticut.

The cover photo above is a depiction of “Mikey” (foreground, left) breaking bread with some of his WPD brothers.

According to the Willimantic Police Department Facebook page, “Blondie’s Diner put Mikey’s tab on the house as a thank you for his service!” Now that’s great recognition for those in the community who serve…and serve well. A series of other photos depicting Mikey out in the community, working alongside police personnel, all have a certain consistency: his gleaming glee and smile. Images can often exhibit when someone is giving from the heart, and Mikey’s photo array is tell-tale.

Turns out Mikey also devotes his time to the Willimantic Fire Department, clearly showing his love and respect for public safety and those who preserve his city when the call comes in.

Similarly, the Pittsburgh Police Department (PPD) recently showcased some of their police volunteers, emphasizing how crucial it is to have selfless people working in tandem with sworn law enforcement personnel and the citizens within their jurisdictional scope, with express concentration on eradicating gang warfare. By way of walking and talking, PPD’s police volunteers make observations, gauge the climate on the streets, chat with people, and otherwise try to develop rapport with individuals who may need to look at a compass of sorts to turn their life around. Facing the reality that the ways of the streets and employing violent methods quite often points directly to a cemetery. Volunteer boots on the ground can help salvage some while also collecting police intel. The most innocuous conversation may offer a detail to remedy community woes; never know until you walk the beat to see what shakes out.

Growing up in NYC, I often saw the NYPD’s “Auxiliary Patrol” cruising through neighborhoods, observing and reporting what they felt of interest sworn ranks. Proverbial intelligence-led policing has its dividends, and data collection can come from all aspects of law enforcement operations, to include volunteers’ eyes and ears.

“The NYPD’s auxiliary police program is the largest auxiliary police program in the United States, with thousands [of] volunteer officers contributing more than one million hours of public service each year. Auxiliary officers are trained to observe and report conditions requiring the services of the regular [sworn] police [officers]. Whenever possible, they assist in non-enforcement and non-hazardous duties.

“They are civic-minded men and women who volunteer to assist their local precincts, housing police service areas, and transit districts by serving as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the neighborhood through foot, vehicle, and bicycle patrols,” explained an NYPD bulletin.

Can you imagine the tally of taxpayer dollars saved by police volunteers serving with the NYPD?

I spent my police career in Florida, one among a much smaller agency than the NYPD. When I was assigned to the Patrol Division, working midnight shifts, I’d walk in for roll call and often saw a guy named “Bill” who sat crouched over piles of police records. Quietly, Bill poured over reams of sheets of information, doing whatever he was instructed to do with voluminous records. I remember Bill being an extremely concentrated kind of person, one who hardly ever looked up from his workstation in our Records Division. His dedicated posture never wavered.

Largely to himself, I was curious about Bill. I asked the police records supervisor one evening, “Who’s that?” I was told he was a retired accountant. Ah, I thought, that explains the acute focus on all the papers before his bespectacled eyes.

I bumped into Bill one evening as he exited while I entered the elevator. A nod, an almost imperceptible smile upon his face, no utterances from his mouth. He was a quiet but diligent source of workmanship whose meek nature always showed up to help his local cop shop…at no charge to the agency, meaning the taxpayers were getting a boost in accomplished work without a dip into city’s coffer. Not one dime. That registers.

I did have one opportunity to sit directly next to Bill one day. I was placed on “light duty” while undergoing cancer treatments, assigned to do administrative tasks at police headquarters. In the Records Division one afternoon, I had a pile of outdated materials in front of me. Bill was to my right, diligently weeding through a stack of papers he was processing. Not much conversation; he maintained his concentration like a forensic genius, accounting for every sliver, each detail, reconsidering everything in front of him. I’ve always appreciated measured focus. A true accountant. The kind of gent you’d want to clone; if only it were legal.

Now, I wonder the years of Bill’s selfless service and devotion to his local PD: how many hours factored into police operations whereby he could proudly state he contributed years of his life to his community…by being a quiet soul doing the government’s work via a grand gesture of selflessness. Bill, Willimantic PD’s Mikey, and others who arrive to give are like gold with zero depreciation. I admire that brand of human, showing up to offer services without expectation, without fanfare, with unadulterated altruistic tendency. How admirable!

Want to volunteer from the comforts of your own home? No problem; there’s an app for that.

My department was big on employing crime watch (often called neighborhood watch or block watch) captains: volunteers who hold day jobs, who reside in the community, and who dedicate their time observing a small tract of the jurisdiction via eyes, ears, acting as conduits to the police agency…providing information while problem-solving purported criminal activity and/or nuisances. We organized a small unit of sworn cops assigned to our Crime Prevention Unit. These officers met with and mentored citizens in how to report problems and what their police officers can do to abate them.

Whether dubbed police volunteers or community service specialists or police aides or volunteers in policing (VIPs), they’re all VIPs in my book.

As we prepare for the holiday…when we tout gifts that keep on giving, I am elated that I once sat right next to one.

There is a bevy of ways to help your community thrive. We here at the National Police Association implore police voluntarism. Hats off to those who step forward to get their hands and skills in the mix, on behalf of countless strangers…just like America’s cops.

Do you know of anyone who devotes his/her personal time in a volunteer capacity with provisions to the police force and the community?


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