On Wednesday, April 10, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. at the Sheriff’s Operations Center, Sheriff Grady Judd administered the oath of office to the inaugural class of 20 civilian “Volunteer Sheriff’s Service Officers" (VSSO). The new VSSO program is an expansion of the very successful Citizens’ Assisted Patrol (CAP) program that uses citizen volunteers to “observe and report” while patrolling neighborhoods and other designated areas in Polk County.
CAP is operated in 54 communities and 2 recreational trails in Polk County and involves almost 3,000 volunteers. The current CAP program employs 45 golf carts and 23 repurposed patrol cars. In 2012, CAP volunteers conducted 33,099 patrols and donated 123,027.5 hours. The Sheriff’s Office has a total of 3,249 volunteers.
The new uniformed volunteer SSOs will provide increased law enforcement visibility, crime prevention and deterrence through highly visible patrol in marked vehicles and uniformed volunteers. VSSOs will supplement and assist sworn deputy sheriffs by handling specific calls for service and/or duties not requiring use of law enforcement authority. The new program involves more training and more duties than the current CAP program, allowing volunteers to aid and participate in a wide range of non-hazardous functions performed by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
VSSOs will help pick up the case load of 8 current paid civilian Sheriff’s Service Officers funded by a federal grant that is expiring in this year.
“We had a choice during these tough economic times,” said Sheriff Grady Judd, “either complain that we were losing expiring grant funding and ask for more, or ask the Board of County Commissioners for replacement funding, or find a way, through innovation and the good will of our local citizens, to get the same job done—and even expand what we are doing.”
Volunteer Sheriff’s Service Officer duties will include:
· House checks (vacation, foreclosed, and vacant properties)
· After-hours business and commercial checks and patrols
· Statistically-based neighborhood patrols
· Crime prevention programs and special events
· Administrative duties
· School zone safety initiatives
· Directed traffic monitoring & patrol assignments (radar surveys)
· Traffic and pedestrian direction/control for traffic accidents and special events
· Animal control assistance
· Assisting Child Protection Referral detectives
· Stranded motorist assistance
· Report excess liter, graffiti, and suspicious activity
· Neighborhood follow-up after property crimes
· Assist with passed occurred property crimes investigations
· Crime Scene Section assistance
· Documenting civil and criminal complaints
· And other non-hazardous duties
Training: VSSOs have received over 80 hours of classroom training and will receive another 80 hours of field training. VSSO training includes:
· PCSO orientation training, rules, regulations, responsibilities, etc.
· Proactive policing principles (PROCAP)
· Polk County demographic and geographic familiarization
· PCSO customer service philosophy
· Crisis Intervention Training
· Bloodborne Pathogens
· Ethics and Code of Conduct
· Use of chemical agent
· Defensive driving
· Civil vs. criminal law
· Report writing
· High visibility neighborhood patrols / theory / crime observation
· Traffic and pedestrian direction/control
· Neighborhood follow-up/canvassing after property crimes
· CPR & AED certification
All PCSO volunteers receive criminal background checks and must maintain compliance with all PCSO general orders and procedures. VSSOs do not have arrest powers, will not take any enforcement actions, and will not write traffic tickets. Some VSSOs will patrol based out of patrol districts and others will work in an office setting. The 20 volunteers who will be sworn in on Wednesday come from across Polk County, including from Winter Haven, Lakeland, Poinciana, Davenport, Haines City, Auburndale, Eagle Lake, and Lake Alfred. Their backgrounds include those who work full or part time to retirees. Among the retirees are former public safety officers (fire, EMS, law enforcement), a school teacher/administrator, college professor, Psychologist, engineers, and others.