People pitch in to assist police


When President Bush called on Americans to volunteer in their communities during his State of the Union address, phones at the Anne Arundel County Police Department started ringing almost immediately.

Within hours of Bush's speech Tuesday night, county residents responding to Bush's message had followed links from the White House Web site to the county Police Department's Volunteers in Police Service program.

"We've gotten dozens of calls for people interested in volunteering," said Sgt. James B. Cifala, head of the county police crime prevention unit.

County police officials said they had no idea their VIPS program would be featured by Citizen Corps, the president's organization to coordinate volunteer efforts in the fight against terrorism.

The federal Office of Justice Programs, part of the Justice Department, randomly chose Anne Arundel County's VIPS as an example of the volunteer programs on Bush's domestic agenda, said Linda Mansour, a spokeswoman for the Office of Justice Programs. Officials chose seven VIPS programs from around the country, Mansour said.

Cifala said department officials are "thrilled."

"We do have the best volunteer programs in the country," he said.

Cifala said he wouldn't be surprised if the number of potential volunteers swells to nearly 50 this week.

If all of those people make the necessary commitment, he said, the county police volunteer ranks would increase by 50 percent.

The volunteers would assist anti-terrorism efforts by handling routine chores, making it possible for more police officers to patrol or respond to problems.

The county has about 50 VIPS, who help police with clerical and technical support.

The police force also has about 50 unpaid reserve officers, who have had formal training, to help with traffic patrol, accidents, fingerprinting and community policing, Cifala said.

Last year, volunteers and reserve officers donated more than 32,000 hours, saving the county $540,000.

"The VIPS and reserve officers are essential," said Cifala. "They are more eyes and ears in the community."

Leroy E. Edwards, 67, of Millersville, a volunteer for the county police since 1993, said he is happy to do it.

"I like the work, the people, the challenge - helping the community," said Edwards, who works in the department's crime analysis unit, mapping crime trends and entering crime data into a regional computer system.

Edwards, a retired security specialist who was stationed at Fort Meade, said: "I think everyone should ask themselves: 'What can I contribute?' "

Information about volunteer programs at the Anne Arundel County Police Department: 410- 222-8560.

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