CPD volunteers could ease staffing issues

June 16, 2017 10:25:47 AM

Alex Holloway - [email protected]


Christine Chandler saw a need for change in Columbus. So, rather than sit back, she decided to get involved and help out at the police department. 


"We've had so much crime and so much disruption with our children, with our teenagers," she said. "I think it's important if they can see an example from the older people, or the mature people getting out there and getting involved. Not just the police, but the members of the community -- people that they look at every day or people they associate with every day. That might help some of the things that are going on in our city that are very, very disturbing." 


Chandler, 66, was one of five people to attend a meeting of civilian volunteers who will give time to help Columbus Police Department. 


CPD received sign-up sheets from civilians who were interested in volunteering with the police department as consultant K.B. Turner hosted a series of neighborhood meetings earlier this year. Assistant Police Chief Fred Shelton said the volunteers at Thursday's meeting were five of the 24 who expressed they still might be interested in the job. 




Volunteer work 


The volunteers -- Chandler, Anne Balthazar, Jessie Koonce, Ruthie Moffit and Rhonda Scott -- will help with a variety of clerical tasks that would otherwise tie up officers. Shelton said they will focus on taking reports from people who come in to the police department, as well as a few other clerical tasks. Shelton said the volunteers will work at times that fit their schedules. 


"We have a good number of people who come to the police department and want to file a report," Shelton said. "What that does is it takes an officer off the street, where they could be actively engaged in preventing crime. That will help us because that means that officer can stay on the street." 


Shelton said the volunteers can also help on professional background checks on job applicants. He said the department will still conduct criminal background checks, but the volunteers can call to check references -- a process he said can be very time-consuming. 


The volunteers will likely work in the records division at the front of the police department. They must complete eight hours of training and ride-along with an officer before they begin their volunteer work. Shelton said some details, such as who they will report to directly, are still being worked out. 


Reports the volunteers take will primarily be for non-emergency matters, Shelton said. 


"If it's something that needs a follow-up from the police department -- rape, robbery, murder or one of the big five -- certainly we're going to have a certified officer take that report," he said. "We're talking about people who come in and say 'Last week, my flowers were stolen off of my porch and my insurance said I need a report,' ... stuff that's non-emergency that we can do." 


He said part of the training will teach the volunteers how to determine the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, what to ask, and how to properly enter reports into CPD's system. 


Turner, who attended Thursday's meeting via Skype, said the program is an important aspect of public engagement for the department. He hopes more civilians will get involved as the volunteer program gets off the ground. He also cautioned the volunteers to be careful with the information they may see while working with the department. 


"You'll have access to very sensitive information, and that information cannot be shared with those outside the police department," he said. "I'm sure Chief Shelton has already said a few things about that, but I want to say out loud the importance of not sharing the information that you will have access to while you're working at the police department." 


CPD's civilian volunteer program is based on the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program, Shelton said. VIPS is a federal program that allows volunteers to work with police departments across the country. 


"Some agencies have their people in uniforms and they go out and dust for fingerprints and some of them go out to accidents," Shelton told the volunteers Thursday. "There are a lot of different things agencies do, but we're not at this level. We're just going to start you at this entry level and keep you in-house." 




Committed to change 


For the volunteers, the program is a way to be examples to help improve the city. 


Chandler, a lifelong resident of Columbus, said she wants to get involved also as a sign of support for officers. 


"A lot of people have the mentality that police are only trying to hurt us," Chandler said. "The police, I feel, are only trying to help. Now there are always bad apples, but there are more good people than there are bad when it comes to our police. I feel like if we can get in there and push them or if we're supporters of the police department, then they can do a better job because they can depend on the people in the neighborhood to help support them." 


Scott, 59, and Koonce, 68, echoed Chandler's sentiments. 


"I'm committed to seeing whatever needs to be done that contributes to the city that we envision (Columbus) to be," Scott said. "Volunteering says that I'm committed -- that I'm in this -- to contributing to the changes and improvements, the celebration -- everything that goes with a city that is vibrant and a great example for the rest of the state."