Helping hand for police Civilians in uniform: Auxiliary units have long supported local law enforcement.

April 01, 1997

THEIR RANGE of expertise can be astounding.

The Baltimore County police department has a female volunteer certified to operate an infrared system on an aircraft; she logs 450 hours a year in surveillance.

In Anne Arundel County, auxiliary police members may help in conducting wiretaps or solving elaborate computer problems. The oldest volunteer, at age 84, still directs traffic.

From Harford and Frederick counties to Baltimore City and beyond, hundreds of men and women have joined the civilian auxiliaries of their local law enforcement agencies. Whether they wear uniforms or not, they are "an invaluable resource for us," reports Lt. William McMahon of the Howard County police.

Baltimore County's auxiliary unit, which currently has about 100 members, is the region's oldest. It dates back to 1942, when civilians were trained for duty as air raid wardens. Since 1969, uniformed auxiliaries have had the power to make arrests for misdemeanors.

"It frees the patrol officers to handle more critical situations," explains Sgt. Thomas N. Gwin, who administers the program.

Most area police departments hold training classes for civilians interesting in serving in auxiliary units. Baltimore County periodically schedules examinations to screen volunteers. For information, call 887-2587.

Among common auxiliary police tasks are assisting officers with desk duties, transporting prisoners, operating departmental vehicles on a variety of assignments, enforcing parking regulations, directing traffic and delivering mail. Volunteers do not get paid for their work but may be eligible for some benefits.

"They are dedicated people. We use their knowledge, we use their skills," says Cpl. Guy Della of the Anne Arundel County police, which operates two auxiliary programs.

Departments commonly require auxiliary members to work at least 16 hours a month. There seldom is any maximum. The 100 volunteers in Anne Arundel's two programs contributed a total of 42,000 hours of work last year, saving taxpayers a good deal of money.

Many citizens wonder how they can make their communities safer. It is not for everyone, but an auxiliary unit is one way. Our hats are off to these volunteers.

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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