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Volunteers represent police in community
Nov 30, 2012 4:00 pm
Lebanon police will have a few extra sets of eyes watching over Lebanon in the future.
Volunteers Influencing Community Endeavors, the police department’s new volunteer program, is letting average citizens work with police to help prevent and stop crime.
“They’re just going to be an extra set of eyes and ears for us,” said Courtney Sellars, Lebanon police communications officer and co-coordinator of the VOICE program.
About 20 volunteers have enlisted in the program.
“So far it’s going great,” said Lebanon police Chief Scott Bowen. “We’re really just in the infancy of the program.”
VOICE grew out of the department’s Citizens’ Police Academy, which began more than 15 years ago and is offered twice a year. According to Bowen, CPA graduates frequently approached him afterward to ask how they could continue to help the department.
“They were the ones coming to us,” said Bowen.
In July, he sent Sellars and Officer Allison Daniels to Dallas for training in developing a department volunteer program.
“We didn’t invent the wheel,” said Sellars. “We took parts from other departments and made it our own.”
Volunteers can choose how they help, whether they prefer to help around the office with filing or similar clerical tasks or to take the VOICE vehicle – a refurbished police vehicle that was scheduled to be replaced in the department’s fleet – to local shopping centers.
“We’ve got a good mix of people that want to do different things,” said Bowen.
The volunteers are not law enforcement officers, said Bowen, but they free officers and office staff to do more than they would normally be able to do.
“We can get a lot more done with their help,” said Sellars. “In our records department, we’ve got three women in there, and they are just so overloaded. It has caught them up so much.”
Sellars believe the volunteers will also help deter thefts during the holiday season.
“Volunteers will be visible out in the community,” said Sellars.
The VOICE vehicle has the program’s logo on the side, and volunteers wear uniforms and identification badges.
“It’s more of a visual thing for the community just to know that they’re with the police,” said Sellars.
Volunteers will also continue delivering alarm permits to area businesses, which increases the likelihood of the business owners responding with updated information and helps forge relationship between police and business owners.
“It helps build that partnership between us and the community,” said Bowen.
Bowen hopes the program will eventually expand – both in size and in volunteer roles – but they are not rushing the process.
All volunteers must first complete the CPA and an interview process.
“We’re looking for people that understand our community and understand what we’re about,” said Bowen. “We’re looking for people that can deal effectively with the public.”
Volunteers must also complete 12 hours of in-house training, which includes first aid and CPR, and 12 hours of hands-on training.
Bowen said the program costs the department very little, with the main cost being the polo shirts worn by volunteers, and has actually saved money on alarm permit postage.
“[The volunteers’] function is part of our community policing policy,” said Bowen. “We always want feedback from our citizens about how we’re doing, and if they feel like they’re a part of us, they’re more likely to call us.”