‘Eyes and ears’ of police provide a needed service in Mukilteo

  • Wed Feb 1st, 2012 7:24pm
  • News

By Eric Stevick Herald Writer

MUKILTEO — It wasn’t until Dennis Chin became a volunteer for the Mukilteo Police Department that he realized how much he’d never seen in the city he’s called home for 20 years.

Each week, the Boeing engineer joins another volunteer to spend a few minutes studying a big map of their city. They plot a route to check on homes where people on vacation have asked police to keep an eye on their property.

Before he leaves the station, Chin puts on a utility belt and makes sure his police radio is working before hopping into a surplus Ford Crown Victoria patrol car to roam the nearly seven square miles of suburbia.

He wears a blue jacket with the words “Police Volunteer” on the back in bright reflective letters, but he knows his role is much different than the officers with badges.

“Everything is safety first,” Chin said. “We are not the police, but we are the eyes and the ears of the police.”

Volunteers actually play several roles for Mukilteo police.

Sarah Yoon joins Chin on house checks. She serves as a Korean interpreter, takes photos at police-sponsored community events and even wraps presents for an annual “Shop With A Cop” holiday program.

“It keeps me active and gets me involved in the community,” said Yoon, a legal secretary who moved to Mukilteo seven years ago.

Last year, police volunteers contributed 435 hours.

Before they could begin, they were required to complete an eight-evening police academy geared for local residents interested in law enforcement issues. There also was a separate training program that covered policies and procedures, safety skills, how to talk on a police radio and how to drive an old Crown Vic with the big front bumper favored by police. The volunteers also underwent full background checks and interviews.

“There is a great return on investment if you just want to look at it from the business sense,” Mukilteo Police Chief Rex Caldwell said.

The police department used volunteers in the early 1990s, but the program was dropped, Officer Cheol Kang said.

The practice was resurrected a year ago. An initial group of applicants was screened and several were selected.

To date, there are 10 volunteers, including two chaplains.

Many bring unique communication skills that aid police officers. Yoon speaks Korean; another volunteer can provide Russian translations.

Others are tracking down bits of the department’s history and helping with managing computer data bases and with crime statistic analysis.

The department is trying build its program slowly with well-trained volunteers, Kang said.

“This is still in its infancy,” Kang said. “There is a lot of room for growth.”

Stan Lundgaard initially didn’t volunteer. He was recruited.

The police department liked the leadership background of the retired Navy captain.

Lundgaard said the officers seem to appreciate what the volunteers do.

“This is something taken off their plates where they can be more effective in their duties,” he said.

The volunteers are separate from the 22 block-watch captains who work with police in different neighborhoods.

As Chin and Yoon drove around Mukilteo on Wednesday, Yoon offered directions from home to home.

“I am a living GPS,” Yoon said.

At each home, they twisted door knobs, peered into windows and wandered around the perimeter. In a city with 60 miles of roadway, there is a lot of ground to cover.

Yoon said the experience has its own rewards that go well beyond the feeling of helping out.

“I feel the volunteers are like my extended family,” Yoon said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

To learn more about becoming a volunteer for the Mukilteo Police Department, go to http://tinyurl.com/mukilteovolunteer or email questions to CrimePrevention@ci.mukilteo.wa.us.