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Posted by on September 22, 2011.

Citizens at-the-ready: Residents to assist police departments

Joan Pressman, left, and David Metzloff make the rounds in a specially-marked patrol car.

Members of the Sandy Springs Police Department’s Citizens on Patrol program can’t carry weapons. They can’t make arrests.

But they can make a difference, Sandy Springs police officials say.

“Our mission statement is ‘to prevent crime and enforce the law through problem-solving partnerships’ and Police Chief Terry Sult lives by that,” said COPS coordinator officer David Johns. “His philosophy is we can do more to prevent crime with the more people we get involved.”

And that’s why Joan Pressman and David Metzloff made the rounds on Sept. 9, taking a specially-marked Sandy Springs patrol car on a tour from the 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. shift. Pressman was formerly a vice president of training with Weight Watchers. Metzloff is a manager for Process Control Corp. They are two of the 15 members of the Sandy Springs COPS class that graduated in August.

There are other volunteer programs in Fulton County. The Atlanta Fire Department has an Atlanta Citizens Emergency Response Team composed of residents trained to react to large-scale emergencies in their community, Assistant Fire Chief Bernard Coxton said. There are 450 members trained to deliver CPR and first aid, organize teams and sustain an area for 72 hours until professional help arrives.

“If there’s a catastrophic event in a major city, we know that there will never be enough public safety resources to reach everybody simultaneously,” Coxton said. The program is funded by a Department of Homeland Security Grant, and this year its $50,000 includes the cost of training and an emergency preparedness kit.

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office is working to establish its first Citizens Academy, a seven-part course to educate residents about the functions of the department, according to Lt. Brian McGee. McGee said it’s an opportunity for the Sheriff’s Office to spread its message directly, circumventing the usual media filters.

“A lot of information that people gather as it pertains to law enforcement is going to be the newspaper, the news or word of mouth,” McGee said. “We’re going to give people the opportunity to come in here and see what we do on a day-to-day basis.”

The city of Dunwoody’s police department said it wants to emulate the COPS program in Sandy Springs, according to spokesman Sgt. Mike Carlson.

Sandy Springs COPS members set aside hours from their week to patrol their community, keeping a watchful eye for trouble or police officers in need. Police Lt. Steve Rose said the police department budgeted $15,000 for the program in its first year, including a $1,000 public safety grant from Target Co. The money goes toward equipment, he said.

Johns said people need to understand the distinction between COPS members and uniformed officers.

“First and foremost, they are not the police,” Johns said. “They are to be the eyes and the ears and report to the police. Where we can’t be all the time, these guys see crime, they radio it in. When we have hot spots we send those cars into these areas to increase visibility.”

Like officers, they have hand-held and in-car radios that allow them to communicate with the police force. The police department gives them hand-held stop signs, flashlights and seatbelt cutters. They also can drive a car with yellow lights to distinguish them from the blue lights of trained police officers.

The program now has one car, but Johns said eventually the department wants a car for both the northern and southern sections of the city. The COPS members wear khaki pants and white polo shirts distinguishing them as volunteer members. Residents might see them directing traffic or working festivals. They’ve had a busy first month, Johns said.

“They have been put to the test,” Johns said. “They’ve worked road safety checks, trees down, stranded motorists, vehicle accidents making sure everybody is OK primarily.”

The program participants must go through several steps to become a full-fledged member of COPS. First they must pass a background check. Second, they must complete an eight-week Citizens Academy course, which provides an educational background about the inner workings of the police department. They then must complete the 12-week COPS course.

COPS members now only patrol day shifts Mondays through Fridays, but Johns said that will soon expand to include nights and weekends.

Pressman and Metzloff said the program instills in them a sense of place and pride.

“You feel very connected,” Metzloff said. “You get to know all of Sandy Springs in a very detailed way.”

“I’m a participant in something I believe in,” Pressman said. “I don’t like payback. I like pay forward.”

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