Volunteers fill in the gaps to soothe victims, fight crime

Auxiliary police do many vital tasks

Anne Arundel

March 06, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Janice Haddock does a follow-up like few police officers.

She doesn't call crime victims to ask the approximate value of their stolen tape collection of 1980s hits -- or to tell them where to recover their cars after they've been found on cinder blocks missing tires and a transmission. Haddock, the first female auxiliary officer in the Annapolis City police force, calls to talk about ways of preventing these personal nightmares from reoccurring.

"Would you be interested in some information about car theft prevention?" she asks one victim after a rash of thefts from vehicles parked downtown.

"There are all kinds of programs that the police offer," she says, trying to soothe fears. She also passes along possible crime trends to commanders.

Although Annapolis police officers responding to crime often talk to victims about free home security surveys or about joining neighborhood watch groups, sometimes that kind of advice is lost in the blur of paperwork and reports.

Officers say panicked victims often have a hard enough time talking about what has happened -- much less anything else. The focus is initially on what the police, not the victims, will do.

Then Haddock calls. Not all departments have auxiliary police officers like Haddock, a retired nurse, whose comforting voice is an example of why the program has been recognized twice by state officials since its inception less than a year ago.

"We couldn't follow up with every victim," says Officer Eric Crane, who works in the city community services division. "But it was something I thought was important to do. We really do care. There's a void between the initial report and follow-up. ... We need to break the ice, but we couldn't do it without our volunteers."

Almost all local police departments have established volunteer corps, whether it's to direct traffic for local parades, enter data into computers, help with educational programs or serve as liaisons with communities.

In Baltimore County, for example, volunteers often serve as interpreters for police, speaking Spanish, German or Russian. The auxiliary force also helps with outreach, crime analysis, computer programming and just about everything short of actual law enforcement, says Cpl. Vickie Warehime.

In Howard County, about 20 volunteers are on the auxiliary force, which formed in 1995, says Police Department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. "They're indispensable," she says. "They allow our officers to better serve the county and handle more serious calls."

Howard County volunteers regularly provide walk-through security surveys for residents, assist motorists, handle abandoned-vehicle complaints and help staff charitable races and other community events.

In Anne Arundel County, police are seeking applicants for the Reserve Officer and the Volunteers in Police Service programs.

Anne Arundel County Reserve officers are uniformed volunteers who do not have arrest powers or carry weapons. They help police with traffic control, fingerprinting, administrative duties and community relations. A minimum of 16 hours of service per month is required. The two-month-long Reserve Officer academies begin Thursday and Oct. 4.

Police volunteers who work in nonuniformed positions require less formal training. They help with clerical duties, computer programming and crime analysis.

"They've saved the department 22,000 hours of service just in the past few years," says Anne Arundel County Officer Mark Shawkey. "A lot of people don't realize how important these volunteers are."

Haddock was one of those kinds of volunteers. "I didn't even know there were police volunteers until I got involved with a neighborhood watch group and happened to ask an officer about it," she said.

While most of her friends and neighbors give tours at historical sites in Annapolis or serve on fund-raising committees, Haddock has spent her time helping police in a variety of ways -- including processing paperwork in the crime lab, fingerprinting, updating the business emergency contact database and clerical work.

"I'd love to help them with surveillance," she says.

The only thing she won't do, she says, is direct traffic on Rowe Boulevard, the main thoroughfare into the city and to the State House. "That's where I draw the line," she says. "I don't want to get picked off by one of those drivers going 50 mph talking on their cell phones."

Mary Meyers and Josephine Bembe have volunteered in the Annapolis police records room for nearly a decade. Betty Abramson is so dedicated that she's calling victims from home while suffering from a pinched nerve that makes moving difficult.

Anne Arundel County police might start a similar program to reach crime victims by phone. "We're also going to start going out door-to-door passing out crime prevention material," Shawkey says. "Right now, our crime prevention office sends out form letters to victims."

Auxiliary officers in the county will also start bike patrols this spring, and several are in training to do security surveys, he says.

"The more I am here, the more enthused I am about it," Haddock says.

"You see people stressed out and, in some cases, afraid. But like nursing, you're there to alleviate that. I really feel like this work matters."

To volunteer with Annapolis City police, call 410-268-9000. Those interested in Anne Arundel County police volunteer programs may call 410-222-8585. In Howard County, call 410-313-3700. In Baltimore County, call 410-887-2208. In Baltimore City, call 410-396-2553.

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