As the first Citizen Police Academy under Chief Charlie Sewell winds down, the Powder Springs Police Department is in the early planning stages of another way to get residents involved.
The national Volunteers in Police Service program comes under the USA Freedom Corps, which was started by President George W. Bush to “build on the countless acts of service, sacrifice and generosity that followed September 11,” the organization’s website says.
Sewell envisions Powder Springs’ volunteers as people who will patrol the city’s streets and nature trails, and notify police if they see anything suspicious.
“The major thing we’re looking for is someone to be the eyes and ears and report when they see something or hear something,” Sewell said, adding he helped start the program for a previous department, as well as worked for one that already had it established.
He called the volunteers a “non-enforcement arm of the police department.”
“These folks would be ambassadors for the city,” he said. “They would have no enforcement power whatsoever. As a matter of fact, that would be part of the training: to make sure they understand that when they hear calls on the police radio, they go the other direction.”
As the department continues to rotate high-mileage vehicles off patrol for newer ones, Sewell said the older-but-still-safe cars could be painted and have their equipment removed for citizen patrol. The volunteers could use them to do things like help people broke down on the side of the road or direct traffic until the department’s officers arrive.
Though not set in stone, the program could start in about a year, he said.
It’s not meant to be a “steppingstone for law enforcement because this is anything but law enforcement,” Sewell said.
Those volunteering, perhaps people who are retired, would offer a few hours when they could and would likely patrol with another person, he said.
Following a criminal background check and training, the program would be available for anyone but would most likely attract residents inside the city limits, Sewell said.
Emphasizing the Citizen Police Academy is not necessarily meant to lead into the volunteering program, Sewell said it is one way to get involved. Graduation is set for Oct. 23 for the academy, which provides a firsthand look at police operations through lectures, field trips and simulated activities.
Another academy hasn’t been scheduled yet, but Sewell said the department plans to do two a year: one in the fall and another in the spring. One objective of the classes is to train residents on what to be on the lookout for.
“A lot of citizens see things and think something is suspicious, but for whatever reason, they’re reluctant to call the police,” Sewell said. “That’s one of the reasons for having this Citizen Police Academy: Not only is it to have a more informed public, but also to establish a relationship with the public so they’re more comfortable … and when they’re more comfortable, they’re more likely to call the police when they see something suspicious.”
Anyone interested in either the volunteering program or the Citizen Police Academy should call the department at 770-943-1616.