Guarding the guardians | April 10, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - April 10, 2009

Guarding the guardians

Danville residents donate time to help police function efficiently

by Geoff Gillette

If you've attended any community function in Danville you've seen them. You may have talked to them one Thursday night while dining out in the downtown area or perhaps they've left a note warning you that your garage door was left open or cars left unlocked.

Who are the mysterious "they"? Ordinary Danville residents who give up several hours a week to throw in and help out the Danville Police Department.

Police volunteers do a variety of jobs, ranging from answering phones to directing traffic to maintaining the squad cars. Some patrol the streets of the downtown as part of the "dining patrol." Others drive neighborhoods, offering advice on keeping homes and cars secure. Where they see a need, they fill it.

Getting to be a police volunteer is a fairly involved process.

"You can't just walk in off the street and say, 'I want to volunteer,'" said Lt. Mark Williams.

The gateway to the volunteer program is through the Citizens Police Academy.

"The Citizens Police Academy allows us an opportunity to show the community what we do as a Police Department," Lt. Mark Williams explained. "A lot of times people only see us in a negative light ... when they're calling to report a crime or when they're getting pulled over. The academy gives us a chance to show them what we do and why we do it. It's a positive forum."

Depending on the class size, the academy may be broken up into several days, but for the most part, it is held over the course of one day. Attendees are addressed by town officials as well as police officers who give classes on specific areas.

"We try to give an overview of incident protocols and organizational structure," Williams explained. "We try to hit the hot topics that we deal with in town."

Once people complete the academy, they can apply to be part of the Volunteers In Policing (VIP) program. Interested individuals fill out an application, and are then put through a screening process.

Williams said applicants talk to Volunteer Coordinator Sgt. Troy Frances. Frances meets with administrators at the department and makes recommendations. Selected applicants then go through a background check to make sure they are eligible to become volunteers.

Academies are held annually. In the most recent class, held in March, there were more than 20 participants. Williams said he is hoping to see at least half of those apply to join the VIP program.

Two Danville volunteers were recently honored for their help both in the Danville PD and in the Sheriff's Department. Paul Cowell, a volunteer since 2003, was the recipient of this year's Sheriff's All Volunteer Extended Services (SAVES) Program award.

A retired managing director of a financial services company and a lifelong police supporter, Cowell attended one of the first Citizen's Academies. Afterward he immediately applied to be a volunteer and has been working with the Danville PD and Contra Costa Sheriff's Department ever since.

Since 2005, Cowell has racked up 2,928 hours of volunteer time. Last year alone he put in 833 hours. Working alongside his wife, Susan, another volunteer, Cowell wears a variety of hats.

"I do all the special events, the 4th of July, the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony," he said. "I have a regular patrol on Thursday night. I go out with another volunteer and we patrol Danville. We look for suspicious circumstances, suspicious cars. And when we do locate them we radio in to dispatch. Really, we're the eyes and ears out there."

Cowell said one of the most exciting things he's done since joining the volunteers was helping to transport nearly $1 million in stolen merchandise.

"I got a call one night about 11 p.m. to come to the police station," he recalled. Working with detectives and another officer he helped transport a pickup truck loaded with stolen merchandise from a storage facility in Concord.

Cowell and his wife also serve as Police Chaplains, providing solace and help to families affected by tragedy.

The experience of being a part of the Danville Police Department has been a memorable one for Cowell as has receiving the SAVES award.

"It was a real surprise because there are about 300 people who vie for that position. When the Sheriff's Department announced it at a luncheon I was very surprised and very humbled," he said.

Another volunteer recently honored is Bob Gross. Gross, who has put in 1,102 hours since 2005, was named this year's Danville Police Department Volunteer of the Year. "It's a real pleasure to work with them," Gross said, "and it's a meaningful thing to do. I've always been a fan of the police department."

Retired from AT&T, Gross went through the academy and applied to be in the VIP program. He said that the nice thing about it is they can help out in a lot of ways. "The idea is to do some of the jobs that take time away from the regular officers," he explained.

Gross has found a niche for himself in the motor pool. "My particular function that I've kind of taken on myself is to go over all the cars," he said. Two days a week, Gross spends a few hours making sure that all the fluids are topped off, computers and gauges are reading correctly, and that the items needed by officers on an everyday basis are restocked.

Gross also helps coordinate public relations events and helps provide a presence each weekend at the farmers market. "We have a car down there and we pass out literature on home safety, things they might need to watch out for," he said. Jokingly he added, "Of course the kids love to get in behind the wheel of the car. The moms and dads love to take pictures of them and it's quite grand."

Williams said having the volunteers has been a great help and their presence is meaningful.

"Having these people come here and volunteer shows a great sense of pride and dedication to their community," Williams said. "We absolutely could not provide the level of service that we do to the community without the assistance of these volunteers."


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