COPS program to begin soon in Midway

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By Alice Du Pont

Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young said last week that community participation helps when it comes to creating a safe environment. That is why, he said, he has started a program that will utilize volunteers to assist in controlling, reducing and preventing crime in the county.

He heard about the program and its success in rural areas while attending a meeting of sheriffs from throughout the nation recently.

"You really get some good ideas about what other people are doing in law enforcement at these conferences. A lot of sheriffs are facing budget cuts, layoffs and other cost saving challenges. So when I heard about this program, it seemed like a fit for our county," he said.

The program is called Citizens On Patrol. Capt. Robert Barkley, director, is spearheading the program and has begun meeting with  community leaders to discuss the program and how it will benefit their communities.

"I selected Midway as the pilot program for the county because the area is growing rapidly and they do not have a police force. Also, the service is free. We identify and recruit members from that community to help us by essentially being the eyes and ears of uniformed patrol officers. We will place a car with the Citizens On Patrol logo on the outside in the area so that the volunteers can easily be identified as they ride through their communities," Barkley said.

After meeting with Agatha Muse-Salters, Midway city manager, Barkley said the program will be a win-win opportunity for GCSO and Midway. Muse-Salters said the program is just what the city needs at this time.

"I was just thinking about what we could do. In fact, I have on the council's agenda the hiring of a part-time police chief. This could not have come at a better time. I'm all about getting Midway what it needs and we need this," she said.

Barkley said the program will help Midway because it is designed to serve as an additional resource for the GSSO and its deputies. It is not intended to replace the routine patrol activities of the sheriff.

"The program will provide the county with additional observation capabilities which will reduce crime," Barkley said.

Muse-Salters said Midway has a population of approximately 3,500 people and it is growing. She said the city issues building permits daily and hopes to have the charter school application approved so they can open a new school by the 2010-11 school year.

"This will help us when we write grants in law enforcement. When they see that there are citizens serious about keeping the community safe, we are more likely to get funded. People are calling every day saying they want to move to Midway," she said.

The volunteers are trained citizens who assist deputies with non-enforcement duties which will allow deputies to focus on crime reduction. The volunteers do not take any type of enforcement action, carry weapons or make arrests. They will receive training in crime prevention, CPR and first aid, driver awareness, introduction to law, patrol procedures, traffic control, radio communications and basic report writing. Volunteers must also complete one ride-along with a patrol officer as part of the training program.

COPS provides an opportunity for citizens to take an active role in helping their neighbors and law enforcement officers. Once the volunteers have completed the required training, they will receive a certificate from the GCSO.

"Criminals are less likely to target a neighborhood if they know there is an active citizens patrol program in place," Young said.

Volunteers must be at least 19 years old, have no criminal record, possess a valid driver's license with a good driving record, have no felony convictions, pass a background check and be a U.S. citizen.

Barkley said that each group of volunteers will be assigned to a  reserve deputy who is trained in law enforcement. These deputies are certified law enforcement officers who are required to volunteer a minimum of 16 hours per month to retain their law enforcement credentials.

"Volunteers can work as much as they want but I encourage them to work at least 4 hours per month. This will help ensure that all areas of the volunteer's community are adequately covered," Barkley said.

To become a volunteer or to find out more about the program, contact Barkley at 850-627-9233 or ask any Gadsden County deputy for an application.