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Town Residents Pound the Pavement

Vienna residents volunteer to be auxiliary police officers.

As a child, Steve Ryle wished he could grow up to be a police officer. Although his career path turned out differently — he works as a communications engineer — the Vienna resident still has an opportunity to live out his dream, as an auxiliary police officer with the Vienna Police.

"It's been great working with the paid officers," said Ryle. "I enjoy the camaraderie."

Ryle is one of six Vienna residents who work as auxiliary police officers for the Vienna Police. The auxiliary officers volunteer several hours a month to help out the police department through office support work or other tasks. Although the hours vary among the auxiliary officers, duties can include assisting in traffic direction and crowd control for special events, securing crime scenes and completing office paperwork.

The program, which has been in place for more than 10 years, is also offered by the police forces of the Town of Herndon and Fairfax County.

"The main goal for them is to be a true support staff so the paid officers can do what they were paid to do," said Vienna Police MPO Virginia Palmore, who coordinates the program.

While some auxiliary officers are currently working full time, most are retired, and most don't have previous policing experience.

THE VOLUNTEER officers learned about the opportunity through public service announcements or the Vienna Police Chief's Advisory Council, which meets monthly.

One resident who learned about the opportunity to volunteer through the Chief's Advisory Council is Ken Plumb, a retiree who had formerly worked as a lawyer for the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission. Although Plumb had moved to Florida after his retirement in 1987, he moved back to Northern Virginia after discovering he didn't like Florida.

"I spent 35 years as a lawyer," Plumb said. "It's kind of fun to be doing this now."

As an auxiliary officer, Plumb works Mondays at the Vienna District Court at Town Hall. He obtains officers' reports, works with sheriff's deputies and helps escort prisoners.

The court itself handles traffic cases, including speeding tickets and minor misdemeanors.

"I've been doing this for nine years now, and I hear the same excuses every Monday morning," Plumb joked.

Other auxiliary police officers have helped the Vienna Police stay on top of their paperwork. T.R. Cook, a former D.C. National Guard officer, assists in fingerprinting services for child identification and takes pictures of officers.

"We just fill in when we need to," Cook said.

Mac Elliott, a retiree who worked for a phone company for 35 years, helps town businesses renew their licenses or conducts security surveys. He also collects refurbished cellular phones, assists in traffic control, and patrols the town's commercial areas. If he sees something brewing, he can ask police officers to arrive on the scene.

"We're sort of the eyes and ears," Elliott said.

Although the auxiliary officers are volunteers, they undergo training similar to what the career police officers go through. All auxiliary officers must attend the county's police academy, and its two 4-hour classes that meet on Monday and Wednesday evenings for six months. They must also attend occasional Saturday classes.

AT THE ACADEMY, the auxiliary officers learn report writing, CPR, First Aid and driver training. They learn about firearms and visit the firing range, even though they aren't equipped with firearms. After the training, they go on ride-alongs with the officers.

"It was pretty much, in a scaled-down version, what a paid officer does," said Ryle of the training.

While the auxiliary officers value the training, the time commitment to train has been one deterrent for prospective auxiliary officers. The Vienna Police currently has six auxiliary officers but is budgeted for 10 officers, according to Palmore. In such a small police department, the auxiliary officers could easily find their niche in areas where police could use the extra help, Palmore added.

"We definitely could use more," Palmore said.

The auxiliary officers all agreed that the time they volunteered was valuable not only valuable to their community police department but to themselves, as well.

Although Ryle still is an auxiliary officer, he's had to take time off to help raise his newborn son. Sometimes when he hears a siren, he recalls the nights when he would patrol the neighborhood.

"Hopefully soon, I'll be jumping back into it because I really miss it," Ryle said.