Gladly one of `the few, the proud, the unpaid'

Auxiliary officer program in Howard is a perfect fit for police and volunteer

April 28, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

It's 4 a.m. on a Monday and Ellicott City resident Herbert Michael will be patrolling the streets of Howard County in his Police Department-issued Jeep for the next 12 hours, probably a tad longer.

Clad in an all-gray police uniform - but armed only with a shiny silver whistle and Mace - he is sometimes called "officer" or "Officer Michael."

But "Herb" is just fine with him. He's also known by his police handle, Auxiliary 25.

The sturdy-looking 73- year-old has put in about 11,000 hours with the Howard County Police Department in the past six years, an average of more than 35 hours a week. He's the kind of dedicated worker who always makes the boss - in his case, police Chief Wayne Livesay - break into a smile.

"Herb, you work so hard that we should give you a raise," he recalled Livesay saying on more than one occasion.

Comments about pay raises and promotions always elicit a chuckle from Michael and the department's 13 other auxiliary officers, who have taken as their motto: "The few. The proud. The unpaid."

As of March, Howard County's auxiliary officers had logged 55,082 hours of service since the program began in September 1995, saving the department more than $1 million.

"I wouldn't be working 12 hours a day and getting paid nothing if I didn't love it," Michael said during a recent ride-along.

The Police Department, the community and even the state seem to love him back. His lapel is flecked with nine multicolored bars that signify his many hours of service and his awards. Two bars are for Howard County Auxiliary Officer of the Year and one is from the governor's office for Volunteer of the Year.

The retired insurance salesman believes he is the perfect auxiliary officer - not because he puts in so much time, but because he can.

Michael has become the unofficial recruiter of retirees for the auxiliary unit, asking his friends at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and church groups to sign up. He has not had much luck so far.

"They all think they have to put in the sort of hours I do," he says. Auxiliary officers are required to work a minimum of 16 hours plus one event each month, which is quite a bit less than Michael's monthly average of 180 hours.

Young people sometimes use the auxiliary unit as a springboard to a law-enforcement career, and some middle-age people, whose day jobs include government work and retail, joined to spice up their lives.

Michael said retired people could use auxiliary work to keep themselves busy, and the department could use them because they are available during the day - a time most auxiliary officers are at their full-time jobs.

Becoming an auxiliary officer fits well with President Bush's request for 100,000 volunteers to assist with homeland security, said Barb Quaintance, AARP's director of community service.

"Retired people sometimes erroneously think they're not needed anymore," Quaintance said, "when really the wisdom and life experience that older people have is untapped potential."

About half of Anne Arundel County's 58 reserve officers are partially retired, said Officer Mark Shawkey, who coordinates the 20-year-old reserve unit.

On the other hand, just one of Baltimore County's 52 auxiliary officers is retired, department spokesman Bill Toohey said. The team will celebrate its 60th anniversary next month.

Michael is the only fully retired officer in Howard's 14-person unit. Like Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County, Howard County would welcome new recruits, said Capt. Lee Lachman, who oversees the unit as commander of special operations.

Although much of auxiliary work is tame - directing traffic, helping children across the street and escorting funeral processions - Michael has found himself smack in the middle of police excitement several times.

On a frigid January morning in 1997, he found a mentally disturbed woman who had been missing for several hours. "Believe me, she was blue," he said.

More recently, Michael received the Police Department's 2001 Lifesaving Award for his discovery of an elderly woman who was unable to get up after she slipped into a ditch near a senior center.

Michael spends much of his time checking and ordering tows for abandoned vehicles. He estimates he handled from 1,400 to 1,500 such cases last year.

"Why should an officer be sitting there twiddling his thumbs waiting for a tow truck?" he asked. "They should be out catching bad guys, right?"

All that driving and waiting could get boring, but Michael does his best to amuse himself. He makes jokes about Columbia's off-beat street names as he winds through the town's confusing roads, and he never passes up an opportunity to tease other officers.

As he drove through North Laurel recently, Michael slowed his Jeep and rolled down the window to ask a pair of uniformed Howard County officers for "directions."

"Pardon me. How do you get to Laurel?" Michael asked in his sweetest gentleman's voice.

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