When 19 people were shot during then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” meeting on January 8, 2011, police from multiple local first responder agencies frantically tried to control the area. And while nearly every local police department was involved, so were citizen volunteers like Bob Milkey, who helped direct traffic away from the scene, and contain the chaos.
“It was a terrible day, but we were very glad to be able to help out,” Milkey said. “It’s always satisfying to be able to help the community however we can.”
Milkey is a member of the Oro Valley Police Department’s Citizen Volunteer Assistants Program, which allows for residents to assist their local police department in a variety of ways. Milkey has volunteered with CVAP for 12 years, offering more than 5,000 hours to the program.
“They definitely don’t get the kind of recognition that our sworn officers get,” said OVPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Carmen Trevizo. “While we celebrate them in-house, on a day-to-day basis, I don’t think the public recognizes the impact they have.”
OVPD’s volunteer program started in 1997, and currently holds 81 members. In previous years, that number was more than 100. Some of these members have served with the department since the 1990s, with some reaching nearly 10,000 hours of volunteer work.
Oro Valley’s CVAP program is available to residents over 50 looking to assist OVPD officers in both emergency and non-emergency situations. Volunteers can help by providing on-call assistance to officers, fingerprinting adults and children, assisting at public events such as the Dispose-A-Med program, using OVPD’s license plate reader system, and training additional volunteers. CVAP members also work with the OVPD Darkhouse program, which provides “perimeter home inspection” for local residents who are vacating their homes for a substantial amount of time.
According to OVPD Sgt. Robert Goddard, the most important role CVAP members play is simply providing any extra eyes and hands whenever the police need help. The CVAP program allows the department to assign volunteers to non-confrontational work, such as traffic and neighborhood watch, while police handle potentially dangerous situations. He considers the volunteers a “force multiplier.”
“They’re an immense asset to the department,” Goddard said. “They keep law enforcement ready for law enforcement work.”
From their volunteer headquarters in Sun City, CVAP members organize routes to check on the more than 500 homes in the Darkhouse program, and provide observation for local parks and schools with their dedicated fleet of vehicles.
CVAP volunteer Carolita Strickland has worked with OVPD for over a year, and said it keeps her busy and gives her a sense of community involvement. Strickland and Milkey volunteer roughly once or twice a week, or about 30 hours a month.
“When you retire after being active for so long, you want something to do, to help the community,” Strickland said. “I love it, just knowing we can help whenever it’s needed.”
Before working in the CVAP program, volunteers attend multiple training programs, including OVPD’s Citizen Academy. This 36-hour series of classes teaches future volunteers and members of the public about traffic enforcement, internal police affairs, task force operations and more. Volunteers can also take additional classes to become certified for CPR.
CVAP volunteer Robb Gray has worked with OVPD for over two years. He’s attended multiple Citizen Academy programs throughout the country, and said Oro Valley’s is the best, “bar none”.
“Almost every day, there’s something that makes me remember why I do this,” Gray said. “There’s good being done.”
Strickland and Gray often work together on patrols around Oro Valley. During volunteer time, they’ve interacted with a variety of local residents: helping stranded motorists, checking in with at-risk residents, directing traffic during large events and more.
“I think the people who volunteer have an intrinsic motivation to help others and to give,” Trevizo said. “Most of them are retired but still want to give back. They have a dedication to their community.”
According to Gray, one of the best things about entering the CVAP program is how much it increased his observational skills, due to training in both the Citizen Academy and during neighborhood watch assignments.
While OVPD officers say their volunteers are some of the most publicly under-appreciated or unknown aspects of the department, Gray and Milkey said the gratitude they receive from locals is one of the reasons they continue to do their work.
“It’s all part of the great community we live in,” Gray said. “It’s a good day when we know we’ve helped.”
For those interested in becoming a CVAP member, visit orovalleyaz.gov/police and complete a CVAP Interest Form.