CLEARWATER — Imagine a platoon of unknown people who keep watch over the city, helping law enforcement protect and serve its residents day and night.
Batman? Superman? The Green Hornet?
Nope, meet the Clearwater Police Department Volunteers, at your service.
“There’s no doubt these trained volunteer officers have a big impact on community safety,” said Sean Hailey, who, as Police Programming Coordinator, trains and manages the adult volunteers who patrol the beach, streets, and alleyways of the city.
Some volunteers with time and a desire to serve help out in the department’s offices performing clerical work. Known as General Administration volunteers, they work inside police stations, doing filing, copying, distributing supplies, shredding, training of other volunteers, and other office work.
According to Hailey, “This unit offers challenges to volunteers who enjoy interfacing with technology and an indoor type working environment with like-minded people.”
For those perhaps looking for more action, there’s patrol.
These volunteers wear uniforms and drive Clearwater Police Department pickup trucks, vehicles identifiable by their silver stripes. The patrol volunteers help direct traffic at accident scenes, radio for police officers when they see suspicious incidents, and provide other support in the field. They drive in city limits, checking for safety hazards and handling minor traffic crashes. When they come upon suspicious vehicles or persons, they radio officers with the location. They also report road obstructions, and conduct welfare checks on the elderly and other vulnerable citizens. Officers can raise volunteers on the radio and call them to the scene of serious accidents to put out traffic cones and direct traffic.
Some, like Karl Bossung, patrol the beach on police department mules, the four-wheel drive vehicles that easily transit the sand.
“I patrol the beach and talk to all kinds of people,” Bossung said. “I tell people about open container laws and alcohol on the beach. But my role is also as a kind of ambassador, saying hello to people and helping them.”
Bossung worked for General Motors for 35 years and then as occupational health and safety director at Delphi Corp., the auto parts manufacturer that spun off from GM in 1999.
The Michigan native retired in 2017 and moved to Sand Key, where he had been vacationing since 1961.
He manages all kinds of situations on the beach.
“If someone is injured, I help how I can, but I call police officers if there is a serious situation,” he said. “Volunteers don’t carry guns, we carry radios and let trained officers handle the big things.”
The friendly retiree isn’t all crime-fighter; he enjoys interacting with tourists.
“I want to be the mayor,” he said with a laugh. “I hand out junior badges and put the kids on the mule so the family can take pictures. Another time I helped a World War II veteran who was in a wheelchair get to a good spot in the sand. Another person stepped on a stingray and was sitting there in pain. I brought him buckets of warm water to soak his feet.”
Hailey, who also trains the volunteers, said the 34 volunteers save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars by donating their time in the office and the field. Instead of an officer (salary: $48,000) directing traffic when a traffic light is down, volunteers can do it for free.
“They are strictly the eyes and ears for the department,” Hailey said. “They free up regular police officers to attend to more serious incidents.”
The volunteers are honored during an annual banquet, at which time Hailey and the volunteers present a check to the city equal to what the city saved. Last year that amount was $297,000.
“When we have these accidents, it’s immediately helpful that we have a squad of volunteers who will answer 24 hours a day, to free up officers so they can go and handle other law enforcement,” he said.
But the department needs more volunteers, Hailey said.
“This year, we have 34 police volunteers, but at the height of the program, we had 80,” he said. “It is hard to find people who can contribute a minimum of four hours a week or 16 hours a month. It’s a real commitment.”
Police volunteer applicants must be at least 21 years old, have high school diploma or GED, and have no criminal history, Hailey said. Volunteers have to successfully complete the training, of course.
Hailey and Yvette Sussman, who has been volunteer coordinator for the past 17 years, put volunteers through 16 to 20 hours of computer, radio, and department policy training before they can go out riding.
Volunteers must provide a minimum four hours a week, including weekends, some evenings, and “many holidays,” Hailey said.
For information about volunteering, Give Hailey or Sussman a call at 727-562-4143. Go to www.clearwaterpolice.org/how-do-i/become-a-volunteer; one can download an application on that page. Mail the application to Volunteer Coordinator, Clearwater Police Department, 645 Pierce St., Clearwater, FL 33756.