Bellingham Neighbors Together volunteers Brad Howard, left and Robbie Hochreiter pose for a portrait on Oct. 8, 2018 in downtown Bellingham. Both Howard and Hochreiter are from the first graduating class of the program. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin
The Bellingham Police Department will launch its third academy on Oct. 11 for its growing number of volunteers to train as local citizen patrols.
According to the Bellingham Police Department’s press release, the programs are a partnership with the department and are intended to keep the city safer by adding extra eyes through citizen patrols.
Scott Hendrickson, volunteer program coordinator, said volunteers must be 21 or older, and those who are accepted will go through a six-week training academy one night a week, overseen by himself and Police Sgt. Keith Johnson
Neither the Bellingham Neighbors Together or Bellingham Citizen Patrol possess weapons. They’re trained observers equipped with a police radio, Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson said the Bellingham Neighbors Together volunteers patrol in groups of three. One citizen sits at a base and logs information from two patrollers in a car, bike or on foot.
“Their mission on patrol is to have a visible public presence, educate residents and businesses and report suspicious activity,” he said.
Bellingham Neighbors Together can only dial 911 if they see criminal activity, however, Bellingham Citizen Patrol has the authority to write parking tickets.
“Bellingham Citizen Patrol only does abandoned vehicle enforcement, disable parking enforcement and vacation house checks,” he said.
Hendrickson said this will be the program’s third training academy since starting in spring 2017. Since then, 35 people have graduated from the program. In total, both programs have 60 percent female and 40 percent male volunteers.
He said the Bellingham Neighbors Together program is a replica of retired Police Chief Clifford Cook’s program in Vancouver, Washington called N.O.W, which stands for Neighbors On Watch.
Volunteer Judee Corgiat said she discovered BNT and BCP after speaking with other women who are retired. The community can identify members of Bellingham Neighbors Together by their grey polo shirts with the BNT patch and a neon vest, Corgiat said.
Corgiat said the volunteers help the police by being public ambassadors and observers, and stimulate the community to communicate with each other.
Corgiat wants citizens to know they can come up to Bellingham Neighbors Together volunteers if they have questions or see something that needs attention and don’t feel comfortable calling the police.
Corgiat said she was fascinated to learn that one police officer might being doing multiple jobs in one day and realized they can’t be everywhere at once.
“It helped me to understand why it’s important to involve citizens in a safe manner that’s non-threatening to other citizens,” she said. “We’re not officers, we call and help where it’s needed.”
Bellingham Neighbors Together volunteer Brad Howard finished the training academy in spring of 2018 and volunteers up to 29 hours per month despite the programs minum 4 hour responsibility.
Howard was interested in volunteering because of his previous experience working for the Campus Community Coalition which involves Western’s University Police. He said before his volunteer work, he had a negative perception of law enforcement.
“After having worked with police officers in Bellingham, at Western and the Liquor Control Board, I had a complete reversal of how I felt about law enforcement and became a huge fan,” Howard said.
In the academy, volunteers are shown how to identify gang-related activity, including gang graffiti tags, Howard said. Using his training, Howard said he recognized gang-related graffiti on Sunset Street and snapped a photo and emailed it to Police Sgt. Johnson.
“Word got back to me a week later and they knew who had done that and were able to charge him with something else,” said Howard.
Bellingham Neighbors Together volunteers choose where they patrol by using a hot sheet that the police department creates for them. The hot sheet describes areas in need of extra eyes or areas that neighbors have voiced their concerns about, Howard said.
Howard has patrolled Rock Hill Park on Iron Street as a BNT volunteer once a week since September, where he said he’s found potentially dangerous waste. During a recent visit, he and his patrol partner found and cleaned up syringes on the ground including a bag with empty drug paraphernalia in it, he said.
“After reporting it to Police Sgt. Johnson, a week later we noticed the park was visibly better,” Howard said. “It wasn’t perfect, but new mulch was put down, it had been mowed, garbage was picked up and we didn’t find any needles after the second visit.”
Richard Mameval, a Bellingham Neighbors Together and Bellingham Citizen Patrol volunteer, said he became a part of the programs to get involved with the Bellingham Police Department.
“I’ve been involved in crime prevention since the late 1970s. It gives me a chance to get out and see what’s going on,” Mameval said.
Mameval said he hopes students are in the program’s future, because having students get involved could help improve their interactions with law enforcement while helping them learn more about the law.
Mameval explained that the program is an opportunity to tell the public what to do if they see something that concerns or frightens them.
“I always make a point of saying ‘If you see something suspicious like criminal activity you should do the same thing we do, which is call 911 and report it,’” Mameval said.
According to the press release, the next training academy begins Thursday, Oct. 11. Individuals can apply by contacting Scott Hendrickson at (360) 778-8633 or online at www.cob.org/bnt.