BUCKHANNON - The Buckhannon Police Department is looking for volunteers to become part of a task force to assist with public events.
Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory explained the program, Volunteers in Police Service - or VIPS - to interested members of the public at an open discussion Wednesday in Buckhannon City Hall.
Because of the increasing number of events and activities in Buckhannon, Gregory said he has had to have officers work overtime to help direct traffic at parades.
Gregory said the VIPS auxiliary task force could help reduce that overtime and give the volunteers a chance to work with the local officers one-on-one.
"I think the volunteer component helps us to continue to provide the quality service programs that we have done and labored at over the last several years," Gregory said. "We can continue to be able to effectively answer the calls and do what the certified officer should be doing without too much interference."
Gregory said that the VIPS program is not to be confused with certified police work. Volunteers will be interviewed by a board of five individuals, trained through the Citizens Police Academy and tasked with the responsibility of assisting at various events. They will not be writing tickets or making arrests.
VIPS members will assist at parades and community events with crowd management, and at city or police-sponsored events, in searchs or canvassing for lost or missing persons, in assisting administration, attending community events, promoting positive interaction with community members and officers, assisting at informational booths and directing traffic at accidents or events. Volunteers will be expected to work at least eight hours each month, but may divide that time throughout different tasks on different days.
"I think this is a good way to embrace the community," Gregory said. "We're basically saying, 'Hey, we need help.' We're looking for people who are interested and energetic and want to be involved in their community... You get to really know people on a personal basis. I think that's worth its weight in gold to get to know people, especially the community (members who) get to know each of the officers."
Volunteers who are accepted into the program will have proven themselves to be 18 or older, of good moral character, have no criminal record, be an Upshur County resident, passed a criminal background check, have a valid driver's license, have their own reliable transportation and be physically capable of performing the duties necessary to the position where personal and public safety is concerned.
Although the initial plan is to have 10 volunteers, Gregory said that he will not turn away volunteers.
"Two or three is better than none," Gregory said. "I'm not going to say there's too little or too many... it can be a work in progress."
Volunteers accepted into the program will be issued a polo shirt with a special logo, a special ID exclusive to the program and a baseball cap, and will be responsible for radios issued only during events. If a member has to leave VIPS for any reason, Gregory said those materials will have to be
At least some of the materials were purchased through a grant for the program. Members will be responsible for their own khaki pants to finish the uniform.
"I believe every good citizen should give back to their community in some way," Gregory said of the VIPS program. "The willingness to volunteer, to freely give your time and energy to a worthwhile cause is one of the most profound expressions of service."
Gregory said he hopes to move forward with the launch of the program by late summer or early fall.
Anyone interested in the program should visit Buckhannon City Hall to pick up an application or brochure. Questions about the program can be directed to Gregory at 304-472-5723, extension 1307.