By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
The Bridgeport Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy is already underway, but it’s not too late to join in on the excitement of learning about the department’s modus operandi (MO) “to serve and protect” and about how to join its volunteer force – Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS).
The 12-week academy is presented in two parts. The first is eight weeks for those with a general interest and began on March 12 and runs through May 8. Those are weekly presentations and are open to Bridgeport residents 18 and older.
VIPS Division Supervisor of Emergency Services Kerry Hess said people can attend any or all of the sessions, because it’s just to let the general public know about police operations and how the department functions.
The second part begins June 18 and runs through Oct. 15, but is not presented in consecutive weeks. (For the specific schedule of academy sessions and other information, visit bridgeportwv.com/VIPS.cfm or the Bridgeport Police Facebook page.
“This [part] is just for folks who want to become part of the VIPS program, and they must attend to become certified,” Hess stated.
All academy sessions are a true bargain. “There is no cost for anybody for anything,” Hess grinned.
Courses in the general-public part run the gamut from how fingerprinting works to how officers investigate crime. The second part sessions (attending all is required for certification to be a member of VIPS) has similar topics but they are more geared toward in-depth, thorough examinations of how volunteers can be utilized by the department to be the extended eyes, hands and feet of the department.
VIPS is a national program created shortly after 9/11 by then-president George W. Bush to embed active partners within police departments to assist in supporting police responsibilities for greater civilian safety and scope of operation.
While it is a national program, from whom it garners informational or consulting assistance, VIPS operate independently departmentally and are overseen by the chiefs of each of the departments and are supervised by police officer liaisons.
VIPS are trained to help with police work such as traffic control, cold case investigations, disaster preparedness, writing traffic tickets, special event assignments, road blocks, and go on patrol and countless other police work.
So VIPS are far more involved than common neighborhood watches; they have a large scope of authority except carrying weapons or making arrests, Hess explained.
Some major perks at the Bridgeport Department are that VIPS have uniforms and even specially marked patrol vehicles.
Bridgeport Police Department Chief John Walker said VIPS are “self-organizing but police department directed. They know their limitations, and they know what they can and cannot do.”
And VIPS are very appreciated. “They’re a valuable resource of the department. We consider them a real part of our police department,” Walker stated. “There are times when we are overwhelmed and they are a major help. They’re just a phone call away.”
As one of 23 members of VIPS in Bridgeport, Hess said he loves the job. “I enjoy the VIPS program because police work is fascinating. It gives me a chance to give back to the community that has given to me for years. There is a lot of gratification to helping the police department serve the community.”