Volunteers help police concentrate on patrols More than 100 people spent 42,000 hours last year, saving $562,000

February 05, 1997|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

When Thomas Parlett gets a call at 3 a.m. to help police search for a robbery suspect, he doesn't hesitate.

He rushes into his blue flight gear, drives out to Lee Airport in Edgewater, where the county keeps its OH-58 helicopters, and gets up above the highways and narrow streets of Anne Arundel County with a searchlight.

Parlett is one of more than 100 volunteers who do everything from filing and answering telephones to tracking crimes and directing traffic, all in an effort to free police officers to work the streets.

"I've got time, I've got skills and I've got a desire to help," said Parlett, adding that half of the 40 hours a month he volunteers is spent on the ground at the more mundane tasks of cleaning helicopters, sweeping the aviation unit office and running papers to police headquarters in Millersville.

Last year, the 42,000 hours of free work put in by volunteers of the reserve officer and the Volunteers in Police Service programs saved taxpayers more than $562,700.

"We encourage anybody with any skill to come to us," said Officer Francis Tewey, who heads the VIPS program. "When we bring someone in, that actually frees up other resources. If I had to put together my literature packets or stuff envelopes, it would take up two or three hours a day sometimes."

Although both keep police on their beats, the VIPS and reserve officer programs serve different functions in the department. VIPS handles administrative duties. Reserve officers act as the department's on-the-street eyes and ears.

Ten days after applying to the program, while police conduct a background check, a VIPS worker can be in a district station fingerprinting prisoners. Reserve officers undergo six weeks of training in which they learn how to write reports, administer first aid, handle traffic, fingerprint, testify and follow military courtesy.

Most volunteers in VIPS are retirees who bring skills from former occupations to the Police Department. The VIPS program tries to take advantage of those skills.

James B. Hash Jr., 58, and James R. Craig, 60, are retired National Security Agency employees who know how to use a computer to track county crime, showing police where the hot spots are. Seven volunteers and two paid county employees make up the crime analysis unit.

"Once you get going on this, it grows on you," said Hash, who volunteered because he missed the challenges of his profession. "You feel good when you can say, 'Hey, I contributed to getting those guys arrested.' "

Parlett's helicopter job is not the norm for a reserve officer. He flew police in his two-seat helicopter for five years under contract to the county. He became a volunteer in June after the county bought its own helicopter.

Most reserve officers don brown uniforms with patches and name badges to patrol neighborhoods, search crime scenes or help with traffic control. They do not carry weapons, not even pepper spray, and they don't chase or arrest suspects.

Many reserve officers, such as Parlett, are on call 24 hours a day but don't resent even early morning calls to direct motorists around a gruesome accident scene.

"When you roll up in the car at 3 in the morning in the freezing snow, and allow an officer to get back in his warm car, sometimes you think they're going to kiss you," said Robert A. Heller, 56, a reserve officer for 10 years.

"The most frequent question I'm asked is how much I get paid," Heller said. "My standard answer is, 'Thank you.' "

For information about becoming a VIPS or reserve officer volunteer, call Officer Francis Tewey or Cpl. Guy Della at 222-8571.

Pub Date: 2/05/97

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