Note from Dan: Becky Mushko is a Franklin County writer who was featured in this column back in 2012.
By Becky Mushko
My husband, John Mushko, is a member of Citizens on Patrol (COP), the second tier of the Sheriff’s Citizens Academy program that Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton instituted last year to get citizens involved and to provide volunteer assistance to county deputies. John enjoyed the 10-week Citizens Academy classes so much, he signed up for the COP program.
For the last few years, John’s hobby has been attending court cases, and he had gotten to know several deputies who encouraged him to apply for the Sheriff’s Citizens Academy. He did so last fall. Before he was accepted, he had to get references and go through a background check. The Citizens Academy was a pre-requisite for COP, another 10-week program that began this year. Most, but not all, of the COP class attendees were retired and had extra time to volunteer their services.
No financial investment on his part was required for COP, just his time. His uniform was provided in exchange for his doing at least eight volunteer hours per month. So far, he’s exceeded his eight hours this month. On July 11, he put in an eight-hour shift with another COP volunteer (they go out in pairs on patrol). They aren’t allowed to carry weapons, but they are in radio contact with headquarters.
A major part of their time on the 11th was spent delivering the monthly packets to each member of the county board of supervisors so they’ll be prepared for their meeting. Since supervisors are scattered all over the county, this took a lot of time—time that used to keep a deputy away from actual law-enforcement duties. On this patrol, they also were dispatched to help a woman who’d locked her keys in her car. While patrolling, they’re to be on the lookout for anything that seems out of order and to radio in if it looks like a deputy is needed. (The COP volunteers can’t arrest anyone.)
On July 17, John took the special COP car to Blairs to get its radio system and camera repaired. Because our house was on the way from Rocky Mount (where he picked up the car) to Blairs, he stopped by for a brief photo op. In addition to the travel time, he had to spend a couple hours waiting in Blairs while repairs were made. Again, this would have taken a deputy away from his normal duties for over a half-day. In the past, deputies took in department vehicles for repair; now volunteers in the COP program will handle this.
COP volunteers are trained in CPR, traffic-directing, observation, and a lot of other things before they go on the road. They’ve done ride-alongs with deputies and have observed how various operations work in the sheriff’s department. While they can’t write tickets or make arrests, they can check buildings to make sure they’re locked up and help with crowd control at graduations, festivals, funerals, etc. Basically, they help with non-dangerous duties to free up the deputies’ time. If COP volunteers see something potentially dangerous, they radio in for help.
There are lots of other localities with COP programs, but it’s a first for Franklin County. If I understand correctly, a grant covered the cost of much of the equipment, uniforms, and class materials. Besides saving man-hours and money, the COP program adds some visibility to the sheriff’s department and makes a lot of people more aware of what the sheriff’s department does.
And it gives retired folks a chance to give back to the community.