The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

February 19, 2014

Citizens on Patrol program graduates 2nd class

By GRACE GADDY
Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE —

The city gained a new “class” of citizens Tuesday after the Palestine Police Department awarded certificates to 16 graduates of the second annual Citizens on Patrol (COP) program – a free volunteer-based class that offers community members a chance to serve as additional eyes and ears for law enforcement.

Graduates of the course assist the Palestine Police Department by going out on patrol, observing and reporting information. Participants were screened and had to pass a background check to attend two-hour classes once a week over a 12-week period, which began in October. Classes met at the Police Training Center in the Palestine Mall.

Brenda Galindo, community liaison for the Palestine Police Department, said the course essentially educates citizens “of what goes on.” Instruction is provided by area officials, such as members of law enforcement, court judges, the criminal district attorney and others. Speakers from other sectors of the justice system also weigh in, from the Texas Department of Public Safety to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“It's sort of like a police academy,” Galindo said. “They come in and talk about what they see and what they deal with.”

During the course, each student also participates in a “citizen ride-out” with a member of law enforcement. Now that they've graduated, Galindo said students can volunteer with another member of the course to patrol at various times. If they observe anything suspicious, they can then report it to the department – though they are not authorized to carry weapons or interfere in a situation as a member of law enforcement would.

According to the National Association Citizens on Patrol website, www.nacop.org, law enforcement agencies across the country have utilized partnerships with COP groups for more than 20 years. Other duties a COP volunteer may perform include traffic control at the scenes of collisions, fires or other events, thus freeing the officers to focus on the situation at hand.

One of Tuesday night's graduates, Angela Kelley, said the program gave her an idea of what local law enforcement does.

“I enjoyed it — it was really informative,” she said, echoed by fellow graduate James Ripley, who called his training “excellent.”

The youngest member of the course, Tyler Gilpin, 20, said he took it to compliment his studies in criminal justice at Trinity Valley Community College.

“It's a good class,” Gilpin said. “I plan on being a peace officer here at Christmas, so it's something to get used to I guess.”

During the ceremony, PPD Chief Robert Herbert congratulated students, stating he was appreciative of the time and assistance they give to the department.

“It's been a long 12 weeks,” Herbert said, dragging out the word long – which prompted laughs and one graduate's tongue-in-cheek “yeah!”

“But it's been a lot of fun,” he added. “I've heard some of the stories. The ride-outs were really great... This whole business that we work in – it's a very tough business. So you've got a little taste of it. You guys gave 12 weeks of your life to us, and I really, really appreciate it.”

Palestine Mayor Therrell Thomas also congratulated students. Thomas was a member of Palestine's first COP course and said he still goes on patrols from time to time.

“How many of y'all see law enforcement, locally or abroad, in a different way?” he asked, prompting hands to go up across the room. “It's not what you see in TV. It's not what you think it is, for the most part.”

Thomas said he was grateful for the volunteer hours each graduate put in.

“Volunteerism is really the key,” he said. “When you volunteer your time, your hours, your energies, your resources – that's what really makes a difference, and it goes a lot further, so I just want to say thank you on behalf of the city of Palestine. It helps our police department and it helps our city.”

PPD Officer Patsy Smith, who spearheaded efforts to bring the class to Palestine, also shared her gratitude, along with future aspirations.

“The importance of this program is huge. Just to be able to have y'all apart of our organization to me is a blessing,” Smith said, “We're looking forward to getting started with our third class.”