LAURINBURG — Over the past several years, the ranks of the Laurinburg Police Department have been strengthened — with a volunteer group that has included retired firefighters, substitute teachers, grandparents and city employees.
Together, they form Citizens on Patrol, everyday people who dedicate their time and efforts to help make the community a safer place.
The group helps the police department direct traffic, hand out parking tickets and citations, patrol neighborhoods, and complete paperwork. They accompany officers on hospital visits and keep patrol cars stocked with gasoline. They can also be spotted at football games, parades and fundraisers.
Members are unarmed and cannot make arrests or drive a patrol car, but they often keep officers company during long shifts behind the wheel.
“They are a huge asset to us,” said Police Lt. Kris Singletary. “These folks choose to help the police department and they look for nothing in return. They are a necessity in the community — they’ve become a necessity to us.”
The active members of Citizens on Patrol are Gerald Schilling, William Lammonds, Sybil Kelly, Eric Morris, Dayne Barber, Ed Tessman, John Terry, Jesse Hardee, April Benoist and Walter Currie.
“Our goal is to serve and volunteer,” said Morris.
Kelly said that she’s even helped pump the gasoline for the patrol cars and doesn’t mind running out to pick up lunch or dinner for officers who are too tired or too busy to leave their desks.
The group has counted about 4,000 volunteer hours since it started in 2008. Kelly said that there is no set amount or limit to how many hours members can work, but they make it a priority to contribute as much as possible.
“We do the best we can to help our officers,” said Kelly.
Citizens on Patrol was established by the police chief at the time, Johnny Evans, and a class, the Citizen’s Police Academy, began soon after. The 10-week course, held from 6-9 p.m. one day per week, is led by members of the police department and teaches many aspects of police work, from narcotics to crime scenes to CPR. Students learn about working with K-9s, conducting traffic stops, patrolling and handling tips and even go through mock scenarios.
For Schilling, the main purpose of the police academy is to make the community aware of what’s happening in the county, and he’d like to see more involvement.
“The Citizens on Patrol are the eyes and ears for the police department,” he said.
But for the past three years, there have not been enough applications submitted to set up a course, and the group still operates out of a police car that was donated six years ago. With a greater number, the team’s effectiveness could improve with the addition of a second vehicle.
A few of the group’s members say they have gotten much more from the experience than the satisfaction of giving back to their community.
For Barber, volunteering for Citizens on Patrol has been “like therapy.” Usually a quiet person, Barber said volunteering has helped him break out of his shell.
“It helps me a lot mentally,” he said.
Barber added that one of his goals was to dispel the negative stereotypes that are associated with police officers so that the public could gain a more positive outlook on the department.
“All the police officers that I’ve been with are nice guys,” he said.
Prospective members of the group must fill out an application, pass a background check, be at least 18 years old and either live or work in Scotland County. Anyone interested in applying for the course can contact Schilling or pick up an application at the police department.