BUCKHANNON - Police Chief Matt Gregory last week announced the upcoming formation of an all-volunteer wing of the Buckhannon Police Department.
"The time is right to venture out on our own and while taking the assistance of other agencies, now also having our own reserve corps," Gregory told Buckhannon City Council at its meeting Thursday.
The volunteer police auxiliary corps will be called Volunteers in Police Service, or VIPS, and will assist police officers with traffic control during downtown events as well as putting on programs throughout the Upshur County community, Gregory said.
Thanks to help from Citizen Corps, a wing of the Upshur County Office of Emergency Management, the BPD was able to secure a $15,600 grant for unit "upstart" costs, including the purchase of interoperable, or IRP, radios and safety vests for volunteers.
"The vision with this unit is that they will assist us where we need assistance the most, and that right now is during the many events that we have throughout our community, including 5Ks, parades, an annual antique car show and more," Gregory said. "There's always something going on in community, and I feel that we could have a better response."
Given the BPD's current staffing of nine officers, it's "almost next to impossible to appropriately respond to all those community events, especially the parades," the police chief said.
"So the time is ripe to call upon the community to help assist the police department," Gregory said, adding that volunteers would not be allowed to enforce any laws.
A person must be 18 or older to serve in VIPS, but there is no age cap.
"We're hoping to create some buzz and some interest in this," Gregory said. "As long as a person is willing and able to do it, we invite them to serve," he said. "Volunteerism is hard to come by and if someone is willing to donate time their time to you, that's just as valuable as money and we would welcome it with open arms."
Before being approved to serve in the VIPS unit, applicants would be required to undergo background checks; be interviewed by a board of stakeholders including a city council person and a member of the police civil service board; and complete a training that would cover topics such as how to talk on a radio and how to direct traffic.
Gregory said a formal informational meeting for those interested in becoming part of VIPS will likely be held in late May or early June.
"All we ask is that you bring your enthusiasm and your time, and we'll take care of the rest," Gregory said. To maintain an active membership in VIPS, volunteers will be expected to log eight hours of service per month.
Individuals interested in the program are asked to contact Gregory by calling him at City Hall at 304-472-1651 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although development of the program does not require formal City Council approval, several council members thanked Gregory for taking preliminary steps to put the program into place.