Thanks to devoted volunteers, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office now has spare eyes and ears out in the community.
The Citizens on Patrol (COP) program, which began in 2007, lets citizens to volunteer with the agency to patrol designated locations around Lake County.
Volunteers act as a link between the office and the surrounding community. They are not, however, sworn-in police, according to Ed Nathanson, the LCSO COP coordinator. He believes COP to be at the top of the volunteer ranks with the sheriff’s office.
According to Nathanson, COP volunteers operate autonomously and patrol their allocated zones around Lake County. Unlike regular LCSO volunteers, COP volunteers communicate with and report to the office via computers, phones and radios.
They are given LCSO cellphones to use while on patrol to report anything suspicious. They also drive an LCSO COP vehicle that has a portable radio and headlights.
“Citizens on Patrol is wonderful,” Nathanson, said. “It’s mostly residents of our community. There are a few who live in other counties that actually come to us; but predominantly, it’s our residents; and they volunteer in numerous ways here. They help save the taxpayers (money). They keep deputies doing what the deputies need to be doing.”
Other COP responsibilities include presenting presentations, dealing with traffic, assisting with parades and funeral escorts, transporting equipment, supporting deputies with vehicle difficulties and assisting with a variety of events.
“They’re adaptable — whatever the needs of the organization are, they’re there,” Nathanson said.
According to Nathanson, each of the current 38 COP volunteers is required to contribute 15 hours of service every month, but most go above and above. Over the previous five years, LCSO COP volunteers have donated for more than 10,000 hours, according to him.
Bill Spears of Leesburg has helped with the LCSO COP for 14 years.
“My favorite aspect is interfacing with people. You meet a lot of different people, and you really get to know the deputies. You get to know them as friends as opposed to just a person in uniform. You realize just how dedicated these individuals are,” Spears said. “What surprised me the most was they treat us with respect like we’re officers. They do not look down on us. If you meet the sheriff, he talks to you, and it’s quite nice.”
Applicants for the COP program must complete an online application and undergo a background check, psychological test and drug screening. According to the LCSO, they must also finish the Sherriff’s Citizen Academy and a 40-hour COP training course.
The LCSO COP program wants to begin a new class soon, and Nathanson suggests that potential volunteers call him to discuss whether or not this is a good match for them, as well as other volunteer possibilities.
“You have a group of positive and motivated individuals who want to dare to make a difference,” Nathanson said. “They want to be there and are excited to make a difference and get their hands dirty.”
The application for the LCSO COP program may be found on the community website at lcso.org. Nathanson may be reached at 352-326-8108 for further information.