Gazette opinion: Community volunteers back up Billings police

2014-08-01T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Community volunteers back up Billings police The Billings Gazette
August 01, 2014 12:00 am

Does it bother you when people park illegally in handicap parking slots?

Have you complained about an old vehicle being “stored” on a public street?

Did you ever report a theft that was discovered only after the thief was long gone?

If you live in Billings, a Billings Police Department volunteer probably called to take your theft report and entered it into the BPD computer system for review by a police commander and follow up as the commander determined necessary.

Thank other BPD volunteers for tagging abandoned vehicles and ticketing drivers who misuse handicap parking spaces.

“Invaluable” is how Lt. Kevin Iffland described the department’s volunteers. The volunteers allow police officers to concentrate on higher priority duties, Iffland said. And volunteers provide much prompter response than uniform officer could provide while they are responding to emergencies and other calls.

The only problem with the BPD volunteers is that the city needs more of them.

Callie Parsons, BPD volunteer coordinator, is recruiting:

- Report-writing volunteers to work four hours a week in the Community Crime Prevention Center, 2910 Third Ave. N.

- Patrol unit volunteers to work four hours a week issuing parking tickets, tagging abandoned vehicles, picking up found bicycles and photographing reported graffiti.

“We need all the help we can get,” Parsons said.

New recruits would add to a corps of 20 report-writers and 40 volunteers in the patrol unit. The report writing center enters about 5,000 crime reports annually.

Volunteers patrol in pairs with a vehicle furnished by the Police Department. They are asked to work one four-hour shift per week on a weekday.

Parson said the Crime Prevention Center works around volunteers’ schedules and vacations.

According to volunteers, the work is fun and rewarding.

“I think it’s important for people to volunteer in their community,” said Tina Walker, who started volunteering 1 ½ years ago. “For me, police just seemed to be a really good fit. It’s fun.”

As a relatively new community member working from home, Walker was able to get out of the house and learn more about Billings at the Crime Prevention Center. Now she volunteers to write reports two hours a week, two days a week after her regular job. She also helps coordinate volunteers for special summer events, such as the BPD booth at the Strawberry Festival.

“The other volunteers are very gracious to help you,” Walker said.

Clint Buck, a retiree, has been on the volunteer patrol unit for more than seven years.

“It’s been so fun, it just flies by,” Buck said. “I would be lost without it every Friday. There’s camaraderie. We’ve become good friends.”

“Each shift is different,” Buck said. Often he and his partner get thanks from people for alerting them that their garage doors are open. People with disabilities thank them for ticketing illegal use of handicap parking spaces.

Buck is clear on his role: “We’re not officers of the law,” he said. “We’re volunteers. We don’t have a badge, just an ID.”

Buck likes to help train new volunteers, taking the time “to explain everything.”

BPD volunteers must be at least 18 years old and pass a criminal background check.

If you can give four hours a week to your community, give Callie Parsons a call at 247-8590.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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