Police volunteers bolster Paradise Valley Police Department efforts

Paradise Valley Police Department volunteers presented the Town of Paradise Valley a ceremonial check illustrating their contribution to the town earlier this year. (File photo)

Arriving at the scene of a car collision, the Paradise Valley Police Department springs into action.

Officers have a plethora of responsibilities: assessing the needs of victims, collecting reports and directing traffic. And, these responsibilities can be a bit too much handle — that’s where volunteers come in.

Donned in unique uniforms to set them apart from paid officers, volunteers are there to serve in whatever capacity is needed during day-to-day operations.

In a situation such as an auto accident, officers would likely delegate directing traffic to the volunteers to allow officers to focus on more weightier matters regarding the collision.

Volunteer group leader William Harrington said in a May 4 phone interview volunteers are important to the police department because they “let the officers attend to the other calls.”

Police Chief Peter Wingert.

Police Chief Peter Wingert said the work of volunteers does not go unnoticed.

“Our volunteers are vitally important to the customer service model we have in place at the Paradise Valley Police Department,” he said in a May 3 written response to emailed questions.

“When the volunteers are working, we have two more sets of eyes to look for crime and one more visible cars to deter criminal behavior.”

The volunteer program has been around for 14 years and it started as a way to provide assistance to residents in supporting new programs the police department was trying to institute.

The number of volunteers has been growing ever since.

Citizens on patrol

The town’s 27 volunteers differ from paid police officers in many ways.

Along with a unique uniform, volunteers drive marked cars, the same as what officers drive though the community. Resource Officer Kevin Albert said these cars are typically the oldest in the fleet.

As far as a responsibilities, Mr. Albert said the volunteers do “whatever the officers ask of them.”

“Our police volunteers relieve officers when officers must tend to other calls; bring necessities to officers out in the field; assist in any way to relieve officers’ burden while out in the field,” he said.

Kevin Albert

“I truly feel the department could not run as smoothly as it does if it weren’t for our volunteers.”
Those tasks can differ depending on the situation.

Volunteers may be asked to run traffic control for a variety of events as well as plan and coordinate bike patrols where vehicle break-ins may be susceptible. And then there’s the “God squad,” which Mr. Albert describes as patrolling during times of Sunday worship.

Some key events where you’re likely to find volunteers assisting police include the first and last day of school — assisting with traffic — and with the town’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.

Even though some traffic-control situations require volunteers to serve at undesirable times — such as 3 a.m., Mr. Harrington said volunteers know the importance of their roles.

“None of those calls at four in the morning or three in the morning are a lot of fun, but they’re really important,” he said. “We can get out there in the system and let the officers attend to more important things.”

Volunteers also provide more personal services such as vacation watches — keeping an eye on a residents’ home while they are away — and run the town’s You Are Not Alone program.

The You Are Not Alone program is where a volunteer calls certain residents daily and provides a weekly visit. Volunteers visit those who live alone, have no family in state or live on a limited budget.

Volunteers may also plan and coordinate blood drives, shredding events, Special Olympic fundraisers, statewide training with other agencies and the town’s car show.

Not to be confused with real officers, volunteers are not allowed to drive with flashing lights or the sirens on. They also can’t carry any weapons while patrolling or enforcing traffic violations.

Volunteers are required to attend semi-annual training. Training covers traffic control, in-car computers, policies and procedures, among other issues.

Safety is always a top priority. If a volunteer ever feels uncomfortable in any situation, Mr. Harrington says he or she can call for assistance from an officer.

“We always know that if there’s a threat, we can get on that radio and say ‘we don’t feel comfortable where we are,’” he said. “We only have one car but we’ll have two or three police cars around us in seconds.”

Last year, 25 volunteers worked a total of 4,000 hours, accounting for the work of two full-time employees. Mr. Winger says that contribution essentially results in a $95,000 donation to the town.

An ideal volunteer

With 27 volunteer spots occupied, there are still three more the department is looking to fill.
Mr. Albert says an ideal candidate has to fit a specific criteria.

“We look for folks that are flexible, dedicated to the mission of serving our residents, (have) good common sense and (are) willing to perform any duties asked of them,” he said.

The process to become a volunteer is not an easy one, Mr. Albert said. The department is immensely selective in who it allows to become volunteer.

“We want to ensure the quality of our police volunteers is similar to the quality of our police officers — well-trained and best-fitting for our police department and our residents,” he said.

The rewards

Though the road to becoming a volunteer can be tough and the tasks difficult, appreciation abounds from both the police department and the local residents.

“The entire police department staff is very appreciative of all our police volunteers,” Mr. Albert said. “They aren’t thanked often enough.”

To show its appreciation for volunteers, the department hosts a yearly barbecue and a semi-annual Breakfast with the Chief where Chief Wingert cooks breakfast for the volunteers.

Mr. Harrington said he feels appreciation from the community on a regular basis.

Volunteers spend time talking with residents while they check up on them. Friendships are created and there’s a bond that grows between volunteers and the community.

Mr. Harrington says it’s not unusual for a resident to offer to buy him coffee while on a coffee break.

“There’s some pretty neat things that happen,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. People are just nice to us.”

Despite this show of appreciation from residents, Mr. Harrington said it’s not the most rewarding part of working as a volunteer.

He finds his crew and its camaraderie to be the biggest reward when it comes to volunteering.

“I have met the neatest people,” Mr. Harrington said. “People that I now go out to dinner with; we socialize with our wives and I never met these people (before). The camaraderie I’ve felt is very exciting.”

Volunteers provide a lot of valuable services to the community and the police department. Mr. Albert is hopeful the department can get volunteers a new or newer patrol car.

“For all they do for the police department and our residents, our police volunteers deserve that,” he said.

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