OKEECHOBEE — The National Association for Citizens on Patrol was founded in 1999, and as the name implies, the group is made up of volunteers who, after a background check, screening and some training, act as the eyes and ears of local law enforcement. Citizens on Patrol are known by many names such as Citizen Observer Patrols, Volunteers in Action, Senior Volunteer Patrol, etc. Here in Okeechobee, we have a Citizens Observation Patrol (COP) group. Sheriff Ed Miller started it back in the late 90s with approximately 20 volunteers. Sheriff Noel Stephen said the program has an average of 20 volunteers during the summer months and about 40 during the season, and they contribute about 1,000 hours of manpower per month to the sheriff’s office. Members help to deter crime by conducting patrols in agency cars and on foot. They have the use of three vehicles, and the sheriff said the cost of the program is minimal because they use high-mileage vehicles that have been handed down to the program. The only other costs are the hats and shirts for the volunteers.
The COPS perform duties such as checking on businesses when they know the owners are on vacation, patrolling neighborhoods where law enforcement doesn’t spend a lot of time and checking on seniors who are alone or who have an infirmity. They even help with community events and participate in Seniors versus Crime and the sheriff has been trying to work it out so that they can act as receptionists for the United Way House.
Sgt. Maj. Jack Nash is in charge of the group. They meet weekly, on Monday mornings at 9 a.m. The majority of the volunteers are retired senior citizens. Sgt. Maj. Nash keeps a schedule so everyone knows when they are working and where. They usually have two to three people at a time in the car. Some of the volunteers have been with the program for years, and one man has been a part of the group since its inception.
Sheriff Noel Stephen said, “They provide a service to the sheriff’s office and to the community that we otherwise couldn’t afford.”
Sheriff Stephen cited an example of a time COPS were invaluable in deterring crime. On Sunday, May 20, 2018, COP partners Jim and Beverly McVeigh were conducting house checks in the area of Oasis Village when they noticed an unfamiliar vehicle at one of the residences and spoke with the driver of the vehicle, who gave them a story that they knew to be false. The McVeighs documented the description of the suspect, vehicle and the tag, photographed the vehicle and contacted OCSO dispatch. Deputies arrived and retrieved the information from the McVeighs. Subsequently, a suspect was arrested and charged with burglary.
“This is an excellent example of great teamwork! I appreciate the job done by all my men and women, both paid and volunteers, to making our community better each and every day,” said Sheriff Stephen.
Anyone interested in joining the program can call the sheriff’s office and ask for Sgt. Maj. Nash. After a background check, you will be invited to a meeting and then for a ride-along to see how you like it.