While many police departments across the country have been cutting staff and programs due to revenue shortfalls caused by the economic recession, the use of volunteers remains consistent. Nationwide, more than 38,000 volunteers work within 700 police departments as part of Volunteers in Police Services (VIPS). The Hazelwood Police Department is one of the 700 participating in this program.
Although volunteers can never replace paid staff members and police officers, they can provide much needed backup support in certain areas. In these vulnerable economic times, local municipal governments with a large-scale police force are looking for more creative ways to stretch their dollars; one such resource is volunteer programs.
With 76 sworn officers and 17 civilian staff members, the Hazelwood, Mo., Police Department (HPD) serves a population of more than 25,703 residents covering 16.5 square miles. Currently, Hazelwood is one of 109 municipalities operating in the St. Louis area, and the fourth largest.
The HPD began its VIPS unit in 1996. Over the years, our volunteers have been able to increase their service to the community and enable the department to keep more officers on the streets patrolling neighborhoods. Currently there are 25 active volunteers who perform over 33 tasks in order to assist the department on all levels.
VIPS Value to Community
At a recent City Council meeting, members of Hazelwood's VIPS unit presented a check for $301,000 to Mayor Matthew Robinson to symbolize the amount of money they saved the City with the donation of their time and services. On average, they devote 10,000 to 12,000 hours of their time on a yearly basis. "We came up with this figure by taking the average per hour cost of a police officer or department staff person and multiplying it by the number of hours provided by our volunteers, which symbolizes the amount of money we saved for the City," said Chief Gregg Hall.
In 2008, the HPD's VIPS received the "Outstanding Volunteer Unit" award from the IACP/SAIC for its efforts the year before. Additionally, the group was recognized as a United Way Volunteer Center for its service to the Greater St. Louis area. And, last year, the VIPS unit was featured in Volunteers in Focus, a major publication produced by the national Volunteers in Police Services Program.
"We're very proud of our department's volunteers because they all do it for the right reason, which is to help the City of Hazelwood," said Sgt. Doug McGarry, HPD's Neighborhood Action Team (N.A.T.) Supervisor and Volunteer Coordinator. "They do everything ranging from coordinating school D.A.R.E. program graduations to providing traffic control at City-sponsored events, and organizing Neighborhood Watch programs to manning the St. Louis Mills police substation. This volunteer support allows more of our police officers to be out in the community protecting our citizenry."
All volunteers are required to complete the Citizens Police Academy class prior to joining the program. Bommarito Volkswagen of Hazelwood has committed to donating a car for volunteers that is switched out every 6,000 miles for a new vehicle. It is with this vehicle that volunteers are able to provide low-level community patrol services. If they see a problem, they call it in for a police officer to handle.
In addition, volunteers are given ID cards that give them full access to the department, including the fitness center.
One of the department's volunteers has donated more than 8,000 hours of service since the program started.
Other forms of recognition include the Volunteer of the Year award, bi-monthly group activities, invitations to attend department barbecues and the annual holiday party.
The volunteers have proven to be an invaluable resource to HPD and some have even ended up as paid employees of the department. Those interested in becoming a Hazelwood police volunteer are encouraged to click here to download and print out the application forms to fill out. When finished, individuals can either deliver them to the police station at Hazelwood's City Hall or mail them to this address: Hazelwood Volunteers In Police Services, Attn: Sgt. Doug McGarry, N.A.T. Supervisor/Volunteer Coordinator, 415 Elm Grove Lane, Hazelwood, MO 63042. To reach Sgt. McGarry by telephone, call (314) 513-5208.