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Volunteer officers lend a hand to Sheriff's Office
They wear uniforms and drive county cars. They are put through an exhaustive training program and they have to pass proficiency exams. And they issues tickets.
They are the Citizens on Patrol unit of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office.
“We’re all volunteers,” said Mike Kennedy, training coordinator and volunteer officer with the Citizens on Patrol (COP) unit. “But we are an important part of what the sheriff’s office does and we take our job very seriously.”
Kennedy has been with COP for almost 10 years. As a retired service and repair man for AT&T, he saw an advertisement in a local paper and decided to respond.
“I wanted to do something for my community,” he said. “I saw this ad and as I looked at it, the list of things that were included in the job enticed me. So I applied.”
The COP program has been around in Kitsap County since 1999. It was begun by a group of four volunteers who wanted to enforce the disabled parking laws, because the sheriff’s office didn’t have the time or manpower to do so. The four got Sheriff Steve Boyer to sign on to the idea and used their own cars.
“They’d attach a magnetic sign to the side of their cars, put on a hat and a vest and out they’d go,” said Kennedy.
Kurt Corey, one of the original four, said the idea of having citizens on patrol met with favor.
“People would always come up to us and thank us for what we were doing,” Corey said. “The only complaints we ever got were from the offenders who were getting a $250 ticket for wrongly parking in disabled spots.”
Within two years, the sheriff’s office decided to make the program more professional and with seven volunteers at the time, they equipped each of them with a uniform bearing a sheriff’s office patch and badge, an official jacket and a used sheriff’s department van.
Their work, too, became more involved. Not only did they patrol for parking violations in disabled spots, but they also began doing vacation household checks, reporting abandoned vehicles, and issued violations for other parking infractions such as overtime parking and parking in crosswalks.
Today, the crew of 23 volunteers do all those things and more. They ride in marked vehicles with radio communication and laptops to access department records on the spot. They provide security at crime scenes and they route traffic through accident scenes. They patrol and report suspicious activities and they help to promote the sheriff’s department at community events.
“In the beginning, we had some trouble with people taking us seriously,” said Kennedy. “They would say ‘You’re not a deputy. You don’t have a uniform and a badge.’ Once we got those things, people began to see that we were for real.”
The only thing they don’t do is carry firearms, he said. And because of that, when things get to the stage where any of them feel threatened, they call for a deputy to come to the scene.
Scott Wilson, deputy sheriff in charge of public affairs and media relations, said the work that COP does far exceeds the cost of the program.
“The return on investment is so much greater than the costs,” Wilson said. “These guys save the taxpayers money and they do the work that needs to be done. That frees up our officers to handle more threatening matters in a timely fashion.”
Just last year alone, volunteers put in 8,499 hours which equals 4.2 full time deputies. In dollars, that’s a savings of nearly a quarter-million.
“We use to get so tied up with calls about abandoned vehicles and parking violations,” said Wilson. “But with these guys helping out, that doesn’t happen anymore.”
Each volunteer goes through an extensive application process and background check. They take a polygraph and they are interviewed by deputies and others in the COP program. They get 24 hours of training on everything from radio calls to how to write a ticket. And they have to be certified in CPR and First Aid.
Part of the training includes classroom instruction and part of it is riding along with a seasoned crew. And at the end, there’s a written test. It can take several months for a candidate to get through the entire process.
“By state law, in order to write infractions (tickets), each officer has to have the training and take a test,” Kennedy said. “The process of the training, too, is set up so that we know that the people wanting to volunteer are doing so because of a genuine interest in the program and not because they have some kind of Rambo complex.”
Once in the program, each volunteer is asked to give 16 hours a month, but most give more. The department has three COP vehicles and all three are on the streets patrolling unincorporated Kitsap County five to six days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and sometimes later.
“This is a great volunteer job because you set your own hours,” Kennedy said. “It can work around any schedule.”
Volunteers include housewives in their 30s with time to volunteer to retired grandpas in their 60s. The minimum age is 21.
For Kennedy and his partner Emil Ellis, they’re out about 50 hours a month.
Ellis joined up in 2010 after he retired to this area. He and his wife are from the Pacific Northwest and before retirement, traveled extensively with Broadway shows doing behind-the-scenes work.
“I saw the Citizens Patrol units around in the parking lots and I thought it would be fun to be a part of it,” he said. “So I went to the sheriff’s website and applied. I always had an interest in law enforcement but it didn’t happen as a career.”
The pair has made many loops of many parking lots in the county and have stood by for as many as five hours at the scene of a fatality accident directing traffic. But they’ve never gotten tired of each other.
“The way we partner up is just based on who can get along with each other for six hours in a vehicle,” Kennedy said. “And Emil got stuck with me.”
Korey, who was a citizen on patrol for 13 years, retired from service last year and is now teaching driver education classes.
“What the (COP) volunteers have done throughout all these years is so great,” he said. “It’s helped the community and it’s been rewarding to each of us and I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”
For more information about the volunteer possibilities with COP, call Rebecca Pirtle at 360-337-4650, or check out the sheriff’s website at www.kitsapgov.com/sheriff/.