Last year, volunteers donated 60,000 hours of service to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
This year, police anticipate even more hours of service because more people are coming forward.
And the police are grateful.
In 1994, the department began the Volunteers in Police Service program, or VIPS, to engage community members.
The volunteer unit began with a few members but has since grown to more than 600 volunteers.
Opportunities for volunteers include administrative work, Chaplain Corps, Citizens on Patrol, Explorer Post, Reserve Program, Victim Services and International Relations Unit. Time dedicated to volunteering can vary from a few hours a week to once a month.
Officer Celestine Ratliff, the volunteer liaison and Citizens on Patrol coordinator for CMPD, said if someone wants to volunteer but doesn't see an opportunity, she will find a place for them.
"I always tell people, if it's not on the list, I will make it happen," said Ratliff. "We have so many volunteers who bring such unique skills to the table. It's caused me to become more creative, but I will never turn anyone away."
Anyone 18 years or older can apply. Ratliff also said the department is not necessarily looking for volunteers with a squeaky-clean background.
"We understand people have made mistakes," said Ratliff. "We evaluate all our volunteers on a case-by-case basis and are looking for someone who is trying to be a productive citizen."
Ratliff emphasized the department's open-door policy and said it is an inclusive unit.
"For so long it's not been cool to talk to the police, but we want people to understand that our doors are open," said Ratliff. "If you have anything in your background to cause us to question your ability to volunteer, by all means, call me and let's talk about it."
To become a volunteer, one must submit an application and go through a screening process. This includes a criminal background check, a driver's history check, an interview, polygraph and drug tests, fingerprints and volunteer orientation. Citizens on Patrol participants also are required to go through 110 hours of training.
"You'd be amazed at the amount of people willing to put in so much effort to become volunteers," said Ratliff. "And they are good people. On several applications, when asked why they want to volunteer, many people said it was to simply give back."
She said the core of volunteers are retired adults but that she would like to see more young people step up.
"I would be delighted to see an 18-year-old come volunteer," said Ratliff. "Learning at a young age to be civic-minded and a productive citizen is crucial."
Ratliff said the volunteer unit was created to help the community and department.
"Volunteers' contribution is not just a monetary benefit to the department, but they are also a great community relations tool," said Ratliff. "It's a great way to show the community that they can help the CMPD because we are all in this together."
In CMPD's South Division, volunteer opportunities include administrative work and Citizens on Patrol. Currently, the division has 11 volunteers.
"The South Division is an ideal model for what I'd like to see in other divisions," Ratliff said. "Some of the volunteers have been there for nearly 14 years."
Ratliff said she attributes the volunteers' loyalty to the relationship between volunteers, supervisors and officers.
"The volunteers spoil the officers," said Ratliff. "They have baked-good Tuesdays and celebrate everyone's birthdays. The supervisors as well as the officers also show our volunteers a great deal of respect and love; that's why they've been there for so long. They are like family."
Ratliff also said the South Division is efficient with volunteers. "They have a volunteer assigned for each day and the same people work every week."
Ratliff said the unit could use more volunteers.
"Last year our volunteers gave 60,000 hours of service," said Ratliff. "This year I anticipate even bigger numbers, because more and more people want to volunteer."