Once a month, Stacie Leonard puts on her patrol uniform and heads off to her shift as a Citizen’s Patrol Officer in Apollo Beach. Leonard was one of the original graduates of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Patrol program.
The Citizen’s Patrol program, similar to others around the Tampa Bay area, recruits and trains qualified citizens to respond to non-emergency calls, such as assisting with traffic control at highway wreck sites to helping sworn officers during manpower-intensive details such as parades.
Citizen Patrol Officer carry no weapons, and have no police powers, such as the authority to arrest, and in addition to their work, they serve as additional “eyes and ears” for county deputies, said program coordinator Deputy Lorraine Jordan.
“Apollo Beach had high levels of property crimes but low levels of violent crimes,” the deputy explained, so the academy graduates citizens are schooled in helping deputies conduct routine procedures such as helping stranded motorists or removing road debris. While patrolling the community, volunteers also keep an eye out for suspicious activity, as well as calling in suspected drunken motorists. Citizen Academy graduates also work with local business owners to advance crime prevention efforts.
Stacie Leonard said was drawn to the program because of its flexible work schedule and her desire to help her Apollo Beach Community. She volunteers once a month for a 6-hour shift: “It is something that I can do that helps my community.”
National crime statistics indicate volunteer patrols act as deterrent to many daytime non-violent crimes, such as trespassing and burglary. The first academy class was graduated and took to the streets just over a year ago, and since then, crime has dropped 38 percent in Apollo Beach.
Citizen Academy graduates participate in a 40-hour training class consisting of an introduction to radio procedures, CPR Certification, Crossing Guard familiarization and traffic control. As part of their training, academy attendees also attend a class at the patrol car driving range.
They are issued distinctive uniforms and check out hand-held radios that allow them to contact dispatchers and deputies while they patrol their assigned communities in sheriff’s cars marked similarly to cruisers.
“We are the eyes and ears for the community,” said Elaine Sellent, a Riverview resident and Citizen’s Patrol volunteer. Sellent patrols both Apollo Beach and Bloomingdale with approximately about six shifts each month.
“I think we sometimes deter crimes we don’t even know about,” she said, noting: “And patrolling has improved my observation skills.”
Sellent recalled one evening she and her partner spotted a possible drunken driver on the roadway. They radioed the dispatcher and kept an eye on the car until a deputy arrived. “We possibly saved a life that night,” said Sellent.
After graduation, the Sheriff’s Office requires volunteers to dedicate at least six hours a month to patrolling. There are 3 shifts every day (6 a.m. to noon – noon to 6 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10pm), and each Citizens Patrol car is occupied by two volunteers.
Participants in the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol must:
• be a U.S. citizen
• be at least 19-years-old
• possess a valid driver license
• pass a background screening test
• complete 40 hours of training
• volunteer at least six hours a month
For information on how to register for an upcoming Citizens Patrol Academy, call Deputy Lorraine Jordan at 813-247-8223.
Photo Caption: Citizen Patrol Volunteers Stacie Leonard and Frank Cannoe handout their “Community Safety Crime Control” literature to local business owner Beth Howard at South Shore Gallery.