After 42 years of working at Western Washington University in computer services, Jim Tragesser said he was looking for something a “little different,” something in which he could and would interact with people in the community.
After retiring as administrator for Computing Services at the university, Tragesser found his new normal volunteering for the Bellingham Police Department.
He now acts like a walking, talking billboard for the city’s men and women in blue as he describes his newfound passion.
“I was eager to learn how the police department operates,” Tragesser, 72, said. “I was impressed with how really friendly and caring it is. I wasn’t necessarily surprised. It’s just very different than I thought it would be. You just sometimes get a very different view when watching or reading the news. They are wonderful people.”
As a member of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, he has committed to volunteering at least four hours per week. The volunteers are integral to the face of the Bellingham Police Department and help serve as its eyes and ears. They serve as a liaison between the community and the Bellingham Police Department helping to educate the public about the department.
“We want to help show that the Bellingham Police Department is out there and that it cares,” Tragesser said.
He has been a member of the RSVP team for more than two years and shows no signs of stopping.
There are two teams of volunteers who assist the department by checking on the houses of vacationing residents as well as enforcing disabled parking rules within the city.
They are on the lookout for vacationers whose homes might have been vandalized in their absence or an unlocked door that could mean bigger trouble. If they suspect something is amiss, they back away and call a trained police officer, he said.
They also scout parking lots and city streets looking for motorists illegally parked in handicapped parking spaces. He receives more comments on this aspect of his job than any other.
“The main comment we get is people thanking us for patrolling the spaces so they can be used by the people who really need them,” Tragesser said. “We have a lot of Canadians visit here who say we do such a good job. They wish their communities would do this. We get a lot of locals thanking us, too.”
The volunteers do not carry weapons and are trained to be non-confrontational. If a situation should begin to escalate, they are advised to back away and leave the scene.
“I really believe in the police department’s deescalation policy of any situation,” he said.
He has never been outright scared or felt as though he was in a dangerous situation, Tragesser said. But, he quickly added, that he has come across an “unhappy customer” once in a while.
“Nobody likes to have the police tell them they are wrong, even when they know they are,” Tragesser said as he headed out for his regular Thursday shift.
As he began to depart, Tragesser said he wanted to add one thing, just one.
“I would encourage others to get involved,” he said. “We could use more volunteers. There’s a lot of walking, so for those who want to get out ….”
For more information on the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, contact the Bellingham Police Department at 505 Grand Ave. or call 360-778-8000.