By Julian March
The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office has launched a new program that deploys volunteers to patrol the county in two marked Crown Victorias.
New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon has named it the VIPR program, which stands for Volunteer Intervention Prevention Response.
“They’re going to be some extra eyes and ears for us,” McMahon said Wednesday. “I’ve always said that alone, we’re not going to be nearly as effective.”
Everyone in the VIPR program has gone through the sheriff’s citizen’s academy, a 10-week class that meets once a week to teach people about the sheriff’s office. The VIPR training is an additional 20 hours of classroom time and 24 hours of ride-along training with a field training officer.
The sheriff’s office started the volunteer program in November. Those volunteers work at the front desk of the jail. Already, McMahon said, they have collectively served 1,000 volunteer hours.
Martin Michaelson, a graduate of the citizen’s academy, said he asked the sheriff if they could start a volunteer patrol. He had been a reserve deputy in New York for 19 years before he moved to North Carolina. McMahon created the program and placed him in charge of coordinating the volunteers.
Michaelson said he wants to help keep the community safer.
“It’s important to me because both my children are down here,” he said.
There are 12 desk volunteers and six VIPR volunteers who will assist the patrol division. The sheriff’s office has two green marked patrol cars with orange lights on top.
The VIPR volunteers, clad in green polo shirts and khaki pants, are unarmed but do wear bullet-proof vests. They will operate in the daytime hours. “We prefer to pair them up,” said Sgt. Jerry Brewer, the public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
None of the volunteers will receive payment. The two Ford Crown Victorias were spare patrol vehicles before they were painted green.
“The cost is very minimal,” Brewer said. He did not have any estimates about future costs.
VIPR volunteers will perform security checks of homes and businesses, check for speeders in residential neighborhoods and control traffic or parking at special events. But that’s not to say they cannot do more.
On their first day of patrol on Monday, volunteer Paul Shaplin witnessed a rear-end collision on Market Street. The driver alledgedly at fault got out and talked with the person he hit, then got back in his car and sped off. Shaplin jumped on his radio and called in a description of the car and the driver.
The Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office also has two volunteer-led patrol cars that operate under the VOICE program, which stands for Volunteer Observers Impacting Community Efforts. That office started its Volunteer Services Program in 2011. Volunteers contributed more than 9,000 volunteer hours to the sheriff’s office in 2011, according to a report. They have helped screen visitors at the jail and the Brunswick County Courthouse and worked at the department headquarters in Bolivia and the Calabash sub-station.
The VOICE cars went on 145 patrols in 2011. They helped stranded drivers, assisted with traffic accidents and alerted dispatchers about suspicious activity.
Wilmington Police Department Detective Kevin Smith, a police spokesman, was impressed by the New Hanover VIPR program and said it would help the city of Wilmington as well as the county.
“They’re a law enforcement force multiplier,” he said.