Police are looking for a few good men and women to volunteer for a new neighborhood patrol program: Bellingham Neighbors Together.
Citizens will train for about two months before working on the streets as a volunteer crime watch, giving extra pairs of “eyes and ears” to the city’s patrol officers, said Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht.
It’s not quite the same as the city’s longstanding Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, wherein seniors help police with abandoned vehicles, parking violators and parade security.
The crime watch – an offshoot of the Neighborhood Police Officer program, led by officers Dante Alexander and Eric Osterkamp – will assign volunteers to patrol certain neighborhoods based on statistics. For example, if the Alabama Hill neighborhood gets hit by a string of car break-ins, officers would assign trainees to keep an eye on any suspicious activity in that part of town, Vander Yacht said.
Volunteers will be handed radios and instructed to never engage with anyone they suspect of committing a crime. (That’s a job for actual patrol officers).
Bellingham Neighbors Together is based on Neighbors on Watch, a group of more than 150 volunteers started in Chief Cliff Cook’s former police department in Vancouver, Washington, according to Bellingham police. Bigger cities, like Dallas, have volunteer patrols that have grown to thousands of citizens.
So far a dozen people have applied for Bellingham’s neighborhood patrol, and there’s room for about five more in the first class. Most have come from the 50-plus age range, Vander Yacht said, but “we’re certainly interested in a broad spectrum of age groups.”
The first academy will hold three-hour sessions on Wednesday nights, with one class on a Saturday. The deadline to apply is April 28. Officers ask volunteers to commit to 4 hours on patrol per month.
Interested? Apply at the Bellingham police website, cob.org/police.