In October alone, a staff of 55 worked 1,297 hours, securing accident scenes, checking pawn shops for stolen items and patrolling city streets. • They were paid $0. • And are proud of it.
As the year nears its end, the Largo Police Department is praising its Volunteers in Policing force — men and women who work for free, doing the tasks that a uniformed officer would normally do — for their contribution to keeping Largo safe, and ensuring that the department's uniformed officers are free to pursue more pressing law enforcement matters.
"They supplemented our staffing levels on the Ironman road race," said Sgt. Andy Hill, the volunteer supervisor, referring to Clearwater's Ironman World Championship 70.3, which dipped as far south as East Bay Drive for its 56-mile bicycle ride Nov. 13. "Without them, we would have been unable to staff that."
According to numbers released for October, the volunteers do far more than just direct traffic.
They patrolled 578 hours, responded to 14 traffic accidents, fined 45 people for illegally taking up handicap spaces, detected five possible cases of DUI and checked 19 pawn shops for stolen items.
So far this year, more than 11,000 hours have been put in.
That, according to Hill, is a big money saver for the Police Department, which has been forced to tighten its belt recently to correspond with city budget reductions.
"We do things other departments don't do, like welfare checks. With budget cuts and staffing reductions, we're still able to provide those services with the volunteers," Hill said. "We either wouldn't be able to do these things, or they would need to be done by a sworn police officer."
A slogan adorning the top of the Volunteers in Policing newsletter, "Volunteers are not paid because they are priceless," is quite apt, according to the department.
But if a dollar value were placed on the VIPs, as the volunteers are called, it would be significant — about $250,000 per year, using the lowest grade officer pay ($20.50 per hour) as a basis for the value of an hour worked.
The volunteers are trained in academies held periodically throughout the year, with the next one expected in early 2011.
Sue Powers, 71, has been a police volunteer for the past 10 years. When she moved to Largo from New Jersey to retire, she found that something was missing.
"I thought, 'Great, I'd be on the beach every day!' " Powers said. "But that got tiresome."
While some might consider responding to accident scenes and rerouting traffic in the Florida sun tiresome in itself, for Powers, the work is invigorating and rewarding.
"Sometimes you feel like you're a human cone out there," said Powers, who will be patrolling local stores like Target over the holidays, watching for suspicious behavior.
But the bottom line for her, she says, is it's quite a reward.
"I just love it," Powers said.
Dominick Tao can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 580-2951.