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Published: Wednesday, 9/27/2006

Police favor beefing up programs for volunteers

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As Sylvania and Sylvania Township police departments continue efforts to strengthen emergency preparedness plans, the departments are looking to expand volunteer programs.

When disasters hit, trained volunteers could tackle tasks varying from answering the telephone to directing traffic, freeing up uniformed officers for more critical assignments.

Sylvania Police Chief Gerald Sobb and Sylvania Township Police Chief Robert Metzger, Jr., said they're interested in expanding their departments' citizens volunteer programs.

The chiefs were featured speakers last week during an "Are You Safe - Homeland Security in the Sylvania Area" forum, sponsored by the Sylvania Area of Chamber of Commerce.

The Sylvania police department plans to expand its citizens' volunteer program that evolved from the city's citizens' police academy.

Some residents wanted to participate in additional activities with the police department after they completed the academy.

Now, people who attend the academy are told how they can get involved in the citizens' volunteer program.

Currently, citizen volunteers staff special events, such as festivals, parades, and the fireworks shows; sometimes they patrol on foot or use a golf cart.

They answer questions, and sometimes they witness crimes and alert officers who make arrests. The citizens can be extra eyes and ears for the department, Chief Sobb said. About a dozen residents are involved in the citizens' volunteer program.

"We may want to add a few more," the chief said.

It's possible that the department would expand the program into a patrol function, similar to "citizens on patrol" programs in other communities, he said.

For instance, trained volunteers could be assigned to patrol certain neighborhoods in a marked car. The vehicle would not be the same as a police car, though. No decisions have been made on whether the department would set up such a program, but Chief Sobb said, "That's what we're moving towards."

Sylvania police receive assistance too from members of the Explorers. Explorers, who number about a dozen, go through police training and can be active in the organization until age 21. Some Explorers do more than explore law enforcement. Chief Sobb said he's hired four former Explorers as police officers, and other former Explorers from Sylvania are now in law enforcement in other cities.

Both the Explorers and the volunteer citizens would be invaluable to the department if a disaster hit the community, the chief said. They're well-trained on radio and telephone procedures; they could direct traffic, and they could check identifications of residents if a neighborhood is restricted, for instance. "There's a ton of things they can do," he said.

The township, Chief Metzger said, is looking to expand its volunteer police group to help provide additional manpower to the police department as needed. The township doesn't want - nor can it afford - to hire 100 to 200 more officers, but extra volunteers can be trained to assist the department, he said.

During the homeland security forum, Police Chief Metzger said that Sept. 11, 2001, provided a wake-up call for everyone, and it has resulted in improved cooperation and communication between law enforcement and other agencies. Chief Sobb said law enforcement agencies are much better prepared than they were on Sept. 10, 2001. Emergency service personnel operate on a much higher state of awareness now, he said, adding that it is a totally different world than when planes flew into the Pentagon and the twin towers in New York City five years ago.

The terrorist attacks were a terrible tragedy, Chief Sobb said, but "you have to find good in all things." Police and other public service departments are stronger now. "

We're all better today," he said, noting that almost daily, strides are being made on security issues. "I have never been to so many meetings. Rest assured, we are doing what we can do to be prepared."



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