Volunteering to protect and to serve in Vail
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – Judy Haeberle was a social worker for 30 years and saw firsthand what kind of work police officers do. She knew she wanted to be a part of it, and in Vail, now she is a part of it.
Haeberle is the volunteer coordinator for the Vail Police Department’s volunteer police force. The program is part of the national Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program that provides support for law enforcement agencies across the country.
While Vail had the program in place before, it wasn’t fully developed to its potential, Haeberle said. But over time, Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger and Cmdr. Craig Bettis have developed the program and given it the support it needs, which in turn allows the volunteers to give the Vail Police the support they need, Haeberle said.
There are currently 15 uniformed Vail Police volunteers, all hired last January during the first big recruitment process under the program. They are unarmed, but provide critical, non-enforcement services for the town.
There are also 10 volunteers not in uniform that provide help for special events and other busy times in town, such as bike and ski registration, for example.
“We can really free the police up to do police work,” Haeberle said.
The volunteer police patrol the businesses in town and offer an open communication stream between business owners and the police. They do community bike patrols in the summer months, which includes passing out information to people on the bike path and also making sure everyone on the bike path is safe and knows where they’re going.
The volunteers offer crowd and traffic control during busy times in town. They issue tickets for handicapped parking space violations and they also offer home security checks for residents who are either part-time or simply away on vacation.
The volunteers include everyone from retirees like Peter Leslie to those with full-time jobs, like Vail Vision Optometrist Dr. Jon Owens.
Volunteering is what keeps Leslie young, he jokes. He loves providing this service to the town and feels it complements his other volunteer work, which is with the Red Jackets on Vail Mountain.
Leslie specifically worries about the safety of children on the bike path, he said, which is why he suggested about two years ago that there be some kind of safety presence on the path.
“I bike everyday in the summer and I’ve seen a lot of near-misses with kids and bikes and dogs,” Leslie said. “I suggested we have some kind of badge or something so we can slow people down, and that coincided with this (volunteer program).”
Owens volunteers because it’s just in his blood. He has traveled the world doing volunteer work providing vision care, and when he moved to the valley a couple of years ago he wanted to find a way to give back locally, too.
He enjoys the work he does for the volunteer police force. He meets people and feels he helps people all the time.
“It’s (customer) service-oriented. But we’re not volunteers for the town of Vail, we’re volunteers for the police department, so the expectations are that we’re also kind of the eyes and ears for the department,” Owens said. “So if we see something that’s not quite right or what have you, we’re corresponding with the officers. We’re the informational people.”
Just like the real officers and code enforcement officers, volunteers are in constant radio contact with the Vail Police Department. The communication is crucial for things like motorist assists, for example, where the volunteers have to let the police department know where they are, who they’re assisting and what, if any, problems there may be.
Bettis said the volunteer force is beyond helpful to the 28-person full-time Vail Police force. They provide a service to people in the town of Vail that shouldn’t go unnoticed, he said.
“They are, in my opinion, for a lack of a better word, the cheerleaders in our community, for our organization,” Bettis said. “They’re out there, they’re very approachable, they’re friendly and they’re doing a lot of things that are quality of life issues.”
As the town of Vail grows, so does the police department’s workload. That’s why the volunteers have become more and more important as they take some of that workload off the department, allowing the police and code enforcement officers a chance to do more crucial tasks that need to get done quickly and efficiently, Bettis said.
“They’re a great part of our family,” Bettis said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.