PORT ORCHARD — Writing parking tickets and arranging to have abandoned junk vehicles removed are functions Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office deputies have to contend with but dealing with such tasks increasingly eats into their patrol time.
That’s where Citizens on Patrol (COP) comes into play. It’s a volunteer program that allows citizens to perform some of the more mundane work for the sheriff’s department so deputies can devote more time to performing serious law enforcement work.
“The principal duties of the COPs include conducting parking enforcement of disabled parking spots and dealing with complaints of abandoned or junk vehicles around the county,” said Deputy Schon Montague, community resource officer for the sheriff’s office. The program’s success has led to additional responsibilities being turned over to the COP group.
COP members are issued a gray uniform to distinguish them from deputies’ forest tan and green outfit. Their badges are made of cloth, unlike the metal ones worn by deputies. Members drive to assignments in a squad car emblazed with “Citizens on Patrol.”
Volunteers carry less on their utility belts. For example, they do not carry a firearm and instead are equipped with a radio and gloves. Volunteers — who are mostly seniors — put in 16 hours or more hours a month and work between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
No wages, but big payoffs/rewards
The work does not come with a paycheck but being a COP member does have its rewards.
David Behar has been part of COP for four years. The Hansville resident is a retired manager who was in corporate security for a large electrical utility.
“I wanted to get active and put some of the skills I have learned to good use,” he said. “There is only so much gardening and walks on the beach you can do. You’re young. You’re healthy. You want to do more. You’re not ready to be put out to pasture yet.”
The 65-year-old recalled an incident he was involved in that made joining the COP ranks worth it.
“We were doing parking enforcement and I noticed a car with a woman in it. The car was full of personal belongings. It was clear she was living out of it. It turns out she had just escaped an abusive marriage and didn’t have any money or any place to go,” Behar said.
“We kind of reached into our pockets and gave her some money so she could get gas for her car. We bought her a nice warm blanket so at least she wouldn’t be so cold at night until she got into a shelter.”
Behar helped connect the woman to community resources.
“I could see the gratitude in her eyes. You could see she was emotionally just rung out. We can do an act of kindness for someone in the community who really doesn’t have anywhere else to turn. That’s what makes this job really special.”
Bradley Posadas, who lives on Kitsap Lake in West Bremerton, learned about COP from a pamphlet tacked to a bulletin board at a square dance event. When he read about the program, the 67-year-old jumped at the opportunity to be part of COP.
“Wow, another opportunity to wear a uniform,” Posadas said on first thought.
He is a former civil engineer and retired Navy commander who last served in Iraq from 2007 to 2008.
“I always joke around with my friends and family that I’ve been in uniform since I was five years old — from the Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, to military school and the Navy.”
As a member of COP, Posadas helped clear out a dozen abandoned vehicles around a school bus stop near Island Lake, north of Silverdale.
“A couple of the vehicles had drug paraphernalia, beer bottles, busted windows. It was a safety issue with the parents. They weren’t sure what the kids could be exposed to,” Posadas said.
Getting the junk cars removed drew rave reviews from the local community.
“Getting the feedback from the neighbors was satisfying. And now the kids feel safer at the bus stop.”
The Citizens on Patrol program began in 1999 with four citizen volunteers. Originally, participants were only commissioned to monitor and write tickets for disability parking spot violations. Citizens were given a reflective vest emblazed with the word “Volunteer” and handed a magnetic identification sticker to attach to their personal vehicle.
Over time, the program proved to be so beneficial that the sheriff’s department expanded the program and gave the volunteers a wider range of responsibilities. Now they are permitted to write up regular parking infractions, such as overtime parking in a two-hour limit designated spot and parking too close to a stop sign.
COP members also do house checks when people go on vacation. A homeowner can call Kitsap One and say they are going on vacation and would like someone to check on their house while they are away, explained community resource officer Montague.
“Once every few days, someone stops by to rattle the doors and make sure nothing is unlocked,” he said.
House security evaluations are another duty.
“We send a volunteer out to your house,” Montague said. “They walk around and talk with you about how to improve security at your home. They cover the right type of door and window locks to have. If you choose to put in cameras or alarm systems, they explain how that is done. They also [advise on] trimming bushes and trees to make your house more visible and less of a target.”
Boaters can be helped out by COPs. A certified COP can do a boat safety inspection. “Getting the inspection can reduce boat owner’s insurance,” he pointed out.
Handling traffic control at community events is another job those in gray uniforms can perform. Last month, they worked the Run to Tahoma commemoration over Memorial Day weekend in front of the Kitsap County Administration Building. Typically, the volunteers work on traffic situations involving less complicated traffic settings.
Trouble can happen
The closest thing to a weapon a COP carries is pepper spray. The spray is used primarily for aggressive dogs. There are times when a COP is investigating an abandoned or junk vehicle and comes up against a protective canine.
“We have more conflicts between COPs and animals than between COPs and humans,” he said.
There has been only one major incident involving a member of Citizens on Patrol since the program began 23 years ago. It involved an angry bull.
Two volunteers were called in to investigate an abandoned vehicle on a piece of rural property. A family member of the homeowner — who was pregnant at the time — was walking the pair to the vehicle. Suddenly, a bull with horns, thought to be in another part of the property, unexpectedly appeared and charged the group. One COP distracted the bull while the other assisted the mother-to-be to escape. The bull ended up pinning the first COP to the ground with its horn, goring the volunteer’s leg. The trapped COP reached up and grabbed the nose of the bull and squeezed it so hard it made the bull stop and trot off, Montague recounted.
The injured volunteer was taken to the hospital, patched up and made a full recovery. Afterward, the two COPs were presented awards for potentially saving the woman’s life.
“The COP who was injured is still a COP,” he said.
Outside of this heroic incident, injuries to COPs are far and few between, he added. Most mishaps involve slips and falls, and are covered by Labor and Industries (L&I) claims, he added.
The Citizens on Patrol force currently has 13 members. The sheriff’s office is looking to double the size of the volunteer force, Montague said. Those interested in serving as a citizen volunteer can apply by going to the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office website: kitsapgov.com/sheriff.