South Charlotte lawbreakers beware: The police have new eyes and ears on the streets.
Citizens on Patrol, a police volunteer program, has recently started work in the South Charlotte division, which covers 57.3 square miles of southern Mecklenburg and includes parts of Pineville-Matthews Road and Rea Road.
COP coordinator Chris Perez said the South Charlotte area needs the citizen patrol. And police are looking for more volunteers to take part.
“There's been a real spike in larceny from vehicles in this area,” said Fred Haeflein, 72, a volunteer in the South Division.
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He said he's noticed people are often careless about what they leave in their cars, possibly making targets of their vehicles.
“Last Friday, my partner and I did a walk in (William R.) Davie Park,” Haeflein said. “Eight of 15 vehicles had target items, like a GPS or CDs, in plain view.”
Perez said it is volunteers' jobs to be vigilant for such trends. “They're basically extra eyes and ears for the police department,” he said.
The COP program allows citizen trainees to perform duties such as direct traffic and issue parking tickets.
The program, started in 2003, is designed to free regular officers for crime fighting.
The South Division joins existing COP efforts in Steele Creek, North and University City divisions. For every hour a COP volunteer works, Perez says, the police department saves $19.51.
Volunteers say the service is rewarding.
Most of the time, Paul Jennings drives a Ford Ranger pickup. But eight hours a week, the Steele Creek resident and his wife, Sylvia, both 69, roam the streets in a CMPD patrol car that reads Citizens on Patrol on the side.
They also proudly wear officer uniforms that identify them as volunteers.
The Jenningses say a typical shift in the Steele Creek division can range from placing mobile radar units to picking up found property.
While most duties are fairly routine, Sylvia Jennings says, sometimes things get interesting.
“One time a man flagged us down and gave us a handful of credit cards,” she said. “Apparently he'd found them behind a McDonald's.” The cards ended up belonging to a stolen purse, which was found in the same location.
Barbara Braley, 73, who volunteers in south Charlotte, said she's also seen some oddities.
Once, she found a laptop in the middle of a parking lot.
She turned it in and learned it had belonged to an insurance agent who'd forgotten to put the laptop in his car.
“It had all his clients' account files on it, and he told us later that he owed his job to us,” she said.
Sylvia Jennings first found out about COP when she attended Citizens Academy, a spring class that teaches citizens about the inner workings of the police department.
“I didn't apply immediately because I thought, ‘They won't take me – I'm too old,'” she said.
But Perez said the average age for COPs is 55, and most are retirees.