WASHINGTON – Leroy Edwards’ conscience let him rest for exactly one month after he retired from federal service in 1993. Then, it drove him to the police station.
There, the Millersville resident volunteers for two to three days a week, using his computer skills to help police in the crime analysis unit of the Anne Arundel County Police Department. The Volunteers in Police Service program lets Edwards, 68, repay the country that let him see Europe and the Far East during a long Army career.
“It may sound old-fashioned, but I’m from the old school, I guess,” said Edwards, 68. “I just wanted to give back.”
The work — and Edwards’ motivation for it — is exactly what President Bush meant Tuesday when he called on every American to donate 4,000 lifetime hours to community service, said a spokeswoman for USA Freedom Corps. The organization, still in its infancy, will oversee the campaign for increased volunteerism nationwide.
The White House highlighted Anne Arundel County’s volunteer police programs — including VIPS and a reserve officer corps — as examples of how volunteers can heighten public safety and fortify their communities against terrorist attacks.
Sgt. James Cifala, head of the county’s crime prevention unit, said he got “slammed with phone calls” Wednesday from police agencies throughout the country that learned about the Anne Arundel programs through an Internet site linked to USA Freedom Corps.
Department officials did not know theirs would be one of seven agencies across the country recognized for “best practices.”
“I appreciate President Bush coming to the forefront about volunteerism, because it should be a part of everyone’s life,” Cifala said. “This is something we just pretty much came up with by ourselves to get some help — get some support — for our officers who were really overburdened.”
Last year, about 100 volunteers donated more than 30,000 hours to the Anne Arundel police, Cifala said. They saved the county an estimated $500,000 by doing work that otherwise would have been done by paid officers.
VIPS, many of whom are retired, answer phones, deliver mail and provide technical support to several police units, Cifala said. While volunteers deal with paperwork and handle residents’ questions, more cops can hit the street.
This month, for example, Edwards is updating the department’s mapping software to make sure that officers and dispatchers have current information.
Reserve officers, who undergo more training, take on duties like traffic patrol, accident reconstruction, fingerprinting, searching for lost children, writing parking tickets and talking to the public about police work, Cifala said.
Lois Myers, of Arnold, has been a reserve officer in Anne Arundel County for 20 years. She said her job became particularly important on Sept. 11, when the county’s volunteer reserve officers were called in to boost security at Fort Meade.
And while there are few tangible rewards for the work, Myers said it is worth it.
“There’s no double pay for holidays, and when we asked for a raise last week, they told us we could go from one zero to two,” she said. “But I believe that the more eyes and ears from the community, the safer that community will be.”
Edwards said it is important that civilians get involved so police officers can “get out there on the street and arrest the bad guys.”
He added, though, that part of his motivation to volunteer is personal.
“There’s just get a feel-good aspect of it, knowing that in some ways you’ll be getting to help your neighbors,” Edwards said. “Plus, I sometimes get those toy police cars and the baseball hats with the police insignia to send to my grandkids. They love them.”