Starting Tuesday night, Mar. 10, Fayetteville Police Department officers will kick off their sixth annual Citizens Police Academy, which has come to be a highly-regarded community relations effort by the city.
Through academy classes, which take place weekly 7-9 p.m. through May 19, citizens learn firearms safety, defensive tactics, gang and drug awareness, as well as various aspects of police work, including patrol functions, criminal investigations, evidence and crime scene processing, domestic violence cases, the use of K-9s and courtroom procedures.
Born from that program, the police department has more recently launched an auxiliary force, which trains local citizens to be active volunteers who work alongside police officers. While it is not expected that every Citizens Police Academy cadet move on to become an auxiliary volunteer, it is required that every auxiliary volunteer first complete the Citizens Police Academy.
If you shop in Fayetteville, you’ve probably seen auxiliary volunteers riding around in the white Ford Crown Victoria with its amber light bar and its plain, blue lettering on the doors: “Auxiliary Fayetteville Police.” Auxiliary volunteers don’t chase down “bad guys” in the car, and they don’t write citations against motorists who park illegally in fire lanes and handicapped parking spaces. They do, however, speak to drivers they find to be parked illegally and make them aware of their violation.
Auxiliary Force Team Leader Orlando Castro, a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer who helps train new auxiliary force members, says his team encounters many illegal parkers around the city, and most of the time people respond appropriately when asked to move their vehicles. But these unpaid community servants do a lot more than tell people where not to park.
If you attended last week’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade through Downtown Fayetteville, you may have seen Castro and the auxiliary patrol car helping to direct traffic along the parade route. Assisting police with those sorts of lower-key functions of police work helps keep certified officers freed up to respond to other situations.
Auxiliary members don’t carry weapons, and they don’t have arrest powers. They do, however, have access to the police department’s radio system, so if they see something suspicious while cruising through the city, they make police officers aware.
Castro says auxiliary force volunteers are trained to discern which observed situations need emergency attention and which do not.
“Our job is to help them out, not to hinder their operation,” Castro said. “We are extra eyes and ears out there.”
Lieutenant Jeff Towler, the department’s training coordinator, says he was skeptical about the auxiliary force concept in the early days. He says he worried that the volunteers might be a drain on the department’s resources.
Nowadays, Towler says he is big fan of the auxiliary force.
“They are a resource that does an awesome job for us,” Towler said. “They do a lot of things that might normally take a certified officer off the road.”
Towler says some of the more eager auxiliary force members, including Castro, often help with certain aspects of training new certified police officers. Towler says they also help stranded motorists, assist with home watches and neighborhood patrols, and other important department functions.
“I can’t say enough good stuff about them,” Towler said.
Castro says that, even though he and his team members don’t get paid for what they do, they feel like the lucky ones for being able to serve the community in such a way.
“You do it because you want to help the community,” Castro said. “Our pay is getting thank-yous for helping people out.”
Castro says people sometimes ask him if he is worried about finding himself in an unsafe situation while making auxiliary patrols. He says so far, so good.
“I haven’t been in any situations doing this where I have felt unsafe,” Castro said.
“If there’s a dangerous situation, we want them to back off and let us get in there,” said Towler.
Additional to the pre-required Citizens Police Academy completion, auxiliary force candidates also must undergo further training in the areas of public relations, safety, radio communication, traffic control, and ethics. They also get advanced defensive tactics training and legal updates. Much of this training happens alongside the certified police officers.
Those interested in joining the Fayetteville Citizens Police Academy and possibly the auxiliary force can contact Fayetteville Police at 770-461-4441. The deadline to apply is Feb. 15.