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Neighbor to Neighbor: Police and fire departments need volunteers

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Sept. 11, 2001 was the starting point for the long-overdue renaissance of patriotism in the United States. Immediate donations of physical, spiritual and emotional help, along with monetary and blood donations, were overwhelmingly plentiful. Our flags appeared, almost miraculously, everywhere and, I’m happy to say, still do.

The recovery mission is still having periodic success as workers continue their sacred task. Overseas, our military troops are conducting their own efforts to seek out the guilty and to protect and aid the innocent. None of the above has been without sacrifice. All of the above has needed prayers. Other help is needed from everyone as well. Will you, in some way, answer the admonition in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to “rally ‘round the flag?”

As you have probably learned, the ranks of the New York Police and Fire departments have been badly and sadly depleted. Recruits for both departments are needed, as are recruits for volunteer positions that assist those departments — those willing to serve a volunteer ambulance corps, a civilian observation patrol, or as a block watcher. To help train young people, you could work with the Boy or Girl Scouts, or your police precinct’s Law Explorer Program, which combines scouting and some of the basics of law enforcement.

All law enforcement agencies are asking that you notify them if you know of someone committing or planning to commit a crime. You may do so anonymously and it will still be investigated. Please give them as much accurate information as possible and, of course, try to set your own best example.

Remember, although volunteers are very much appreciated, they must still obey the law. I recently witnessed officers from my precinct clearing double-parkers from Merrick Boulevard on a recent, busy Saturday night. One driver stubbornly refused to follow bullhorn instructions to “get in the car and move it.” I marveled at the patience of the officers who finally were successful.

Although I couldn’t hear what that driver was saying, and had heard others before him being abusive to other officers in similar situations, I called to the officers that I would be glad to testify that the were neither rude nor unjustified if that driver made a complaint against them. They assured me there would be no such charge because the driver was an auxiliary officer from another precinct who mistakenly felt he had the special privilege to both break the law and ignore a direct order to uphold it, given by an NYPD officer. The “special privilege” volunteers receive is that they are allowed to volunteer as long as they obey the rules.

In March 2002, I will have been an NYPD volunteer for 34 years and I have felt each year a great privilege. I have met and become friendly with some of the greatest, bravest people anyone could ever know.

I was grateful to hear many people say after Sept. 11 that they had been very unjust in their judgment of police. People had started to learn that when we had community policing and fought hard to get that back. Unfortunately, criminal terrorists required different law enforcement initiatives and we lost community policing — I hope only temporarily. Each commanding officer seems to be supportive of community policing as we knew it, but as long as there are limited resources, they will have to do the best they can with what they are given.

Remember what I said at the beginning of this column? You could help. Don’t just sit or stand there. Do something! They will train you, you will meet new people, you will be doing something positive for yourself and your community and will probably have fun doing it. Try it — I think you’ll like it. It would be a great way to help make 2002 a safe, happy new year.

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