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Citizen patrol seeks criminals, volunteers

If they dress like a cop, walk like a cop and act like a cop, they must be cops. But they are not.

The Island County Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol is a group of more than 60 people who volunteer their time to patrol vacationers’ houses, look for suspicious activity and offer support to deputies. Last year, the 14 volunteers with the north precinct racked up more than 1,000 hours, and the group wants more.

Al Titus, who has been a volunteer for more than four years, said the patrol is looking for new recruits to take part in a training academy in August.

The function of the patrol is just that — to patrol. Titus said they are not officers. They can not carry a weapon, they can not make arrests and they do not even have lights and sirens.

“A lot of the things (the academy) emphasize is we are not law enforcement, we can’t arrest people,” Titus said. “We are the eyes and ears for the department.”

The academy consists of a series of three-hour sessions over six weeks and one Saturday session. Safety procedures, first aid and traffic control are some of the topics covered, Titus said.

Titus said the patrol is necessary as a supplement to the regular deputies.

“Our law enforcement presence is limited because we are rural,” he said.

The volunteer patrol does not have the exciting, fast-paced life of a Sheriff’s deputy. Titus said the volunteers’ training helps them to stay out of situations that could potentially turn dangerous.

“Our training is such that we don’t get in over our head, we know when to back up,” Titus said. “Besides, when you’re my size, you don’t run very fast and the best I could do is throw my flashlight at them.”

Volunteers always travel with a partner, and do not enter a building if they feel something suspicious is happening.

Titus recalled one patrol where he went to check on a home while the owners were away. The volunteers saw the door was open to the building when it should not have been. Titus said the only option is to move to a safe place and radio for a deputy.

“We let the real guys go out and do the real work,” Volunteer Dennis Maylor said.

Volunteers also get a sense of accomplishment from participating, Maylor said.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think we were doing any good,” he said.

Titus said a lot of what the volunteers accomplish is crime prevention. The extra police presence deters a lot of crimes, especially speeding, he said.

“We never know when we do good,” Titus said. “We never know when we drive by if that kid didn’t throw that rock. That’s just our whole goal, to give something back to the community.”

Titus said one other benefit to volunteering exists — the Sheriff’s office gives a free hat and T-shirt. The patrol is comprised mainly of retired people because of the flexibility needed for scheduling.

Retired Navy personnel, doctors and their wives all give their time to the program. Since no actual pursuits or arrests happen, not a lot of physical acivity is required, but a doctor does need to give clearance.

For those interested in the program, contact the Sheriff’s office at 678-4422.

You can reach News-Times reporter Eric Berto at eberto@whidbeynewstimes.com.

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