Except for the gold capital letters "AUXILIARY" across the top of their blue police caps, the six uniformed men and women standing in front of a boarded-up chicken shop in Cold Spring looked like any other Baltimore police officers.
After receiving instructions from Sgt. Robert Gibson Jr. of the Police Department's Community Affairs Division, the six auxiliary officers -- all unpaid volunteers -- began patrolling during the recent National Night Out anti-crime observances, assuming some responsibilities usually handled by regular, full-time police.
"They come from all backgrounds: schoolteachers, people in industry, people who are technology specialists," said Chief Edward Jackson of the Community Affairs Division, referring to the volunteers. "They work their full-time jobs just as we do."
The Baltimore Police Department has about 22 auxiliary officers, each working a minimum of 120 hours a year. Among the volunteers are a retired federal employee, a hospital office worker and a Social Security Administration employee.
"What you do here ... are the things someone can do to take the burden off the regular police," said Joseph Sherick, an auxiliary officer and former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Defense. "It's not crime-fighting, it's just doing traffic and things that are relatively nondangerous."
Among the details that auxiliary police serve on are crowd and traffic control at Orioles and Ravens games, and other city events.
"We help on ... 5K runs, various parades around town, festivals like the Latino festival and carnivals," said Baum Garten, an auxiliary police unit captain who is retired from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
To become auxiliary police officers, volunteers go through a 14-week training session at the police academy, learning about patrol procedures, ethics and even military law. And although they do carry handcuffs, auxiliary officers do not go through firearms training and are usually kept out of harm's way.
"We teach them some defense tactics should they stumble on an attack," Jackson said. "But the physical part of it is not nearly as rigorous as we require of our regular police officers."
The relaxed physical requirements allow some people who could not otherwise become officers the opportunity to participate in policing.
"Some people just like the police culture," Jackson said. "Or, for some reason, they couldn't become full-time police officers themselves, so it gives them an opportunity to stay connected to law enforcement."
Nine years ago, Sandra Adams-Marshall was attending Baltimore City Community College hoping to become a police officer. To help prepare herself, she joined the auxiliary unit. But back and leg injuries she suffered in an auto accident prevented her from joining the police force.
Working in the auxiliary unit, with its less strenuous physical demands, has enabled her to continue to pursue an interest in law enforcement.
"I can set my pace" in the auxiliary, said Adams-Marshall, a patient coordinator at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "I don't have to run or do foot chases."
Auxiliary officer Horace Coles, a customer service representative at the Social Security Administration, said he believes that auxiliary officers can also serve as goodwill ambassadors on behalf of police.
"I was brought up in a time when the police were your friends, but now we're going away from that," Coles said.
People need to realize, he said, that officers are there to assist them.
Sherick, 78, joined the auxiliary after he retired from a long career in law enforcement. Sherick said he was the "head cop" in his former position in the Defense Department.
"I worked for the secretary of defense, and I had all the law enforcement under my control," he said.
Sherick joined the auxiliary police, he said, to lighten the burden of the understaffed department.
"I like cops. I think they're underappreciated and overburdened," he said. "I feel if I go out and run a corner with traffic then some district policeman is out doing his job and doesn't have to devote himself to this relatively monotonous but still very necessary job."