Weekday Civilians, Weekend Police Officers

Weekday Civilians, Weekend Police Officers

Auxiliary police officers gain a high profile in the department in a time of budget cuts.

Despite the best efforts of a security guard, the man would not stop his loud, profanity-laced tirades. It was the holiday season, and the man adamantly refused to leave the crowded Springfield Mall. That's when Tim Scott, a member of the Fairfax County Auxiliary Police force, showed up.

"I was in plainclothes, and I identified myself, and he didn't seem to care," Scott said. "He wasn't going to leave."

At one point, the situation turned violent, and "we wound up fighting. ... He was just showing off," said Scott, a Springfield resident and 12-year veteran of the auxiliary force who works as an accident investigator for the Postal Service.

WRESTLING WITH pugnacious mall patrons is just one of the many duties that auxiliary police officers undertake in Fairfax County. For at least 24 hours a month, auxiliaries leave their day jobs behind and don a dark-blue police uniform that may be difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish from a career officer's uniform. The auxiliaries ride along on patrols, help run drunken driving checkpoints, work security for large events, direct traffic after accidents and handle administrative duties at police stations, among other duties.

"They're police officers; we're police officers," said 2nd Lt. Mark Payton, coordinator for the auxiliary program at the Fairfax County Police Department.

The program has come a long way since it started in 1983. Back then, Payton said, auxiliaries mostly rode along with officers and stayed in the background. Today, weekend officers do just about everything their paid counterparts do. They can make arrests and issue a summons; they go out on solo patrols in police cruisers; and although they are not issued a sidearm, they are trained to use the shotgun that is in every cruiser. On Sept. 2, a fresh class of 21 police auxiliary recruits will graduate from a six-month training program at the Police Academy, bringing the total number of auxiliary officers to 102. Payton said he is already looking for recruits to enter the training program next spring.

WITH COUNTY budgets strained, the Police Department is increasingly relying on volunteers like the auxiliaries. Last year, auxiliaries contributed over 30,000 hours to the department, Payton said.

"It's quite a lot of money it's saved the county," he said. Without them, "there's some things that wouldn't get done."

For instance, he said, after a fatal hit-and-run accident on the Fairfax County Parkway last May, auxiliaries searched state records looking for every registered red Ford pickup truck, the kind of car that had been spotted at the scene. They then checked every single one of those vehicles in the area looking for damage or evidence of fresh repairs. And although the search didn't yield the perpetrator, police knew they had covered their bases.

To Scott, the reliance on the deputies has had the welcome effect of increasing "the recognition of the auxiliary police officers internally within the department."

"Seven years ago we weren't as strongly involved on the streets as we are now," he said. "The program continues to grow, and the duties and responsibilities continue to grow."

One of the relatively newer auxiliaries who has seen the added responsibility firsthand is Jon Morrow, a Springfield resident who works for Unisys.

"I've pulled a shotgun on a few occasions," he said. "We've caught kids coming out on a home invasion in Burke."

Morrow said he was inspired to join the program after riding along 50 or 60 times in a cruiser with his son, who was a D.C. police officer for 12 years.

"Lights and sirens will do a lot of things to you," he said. "If you're going down Rolling Road at 60 miles per hour with lights and sirens and nobody's getting out of the way, it can get you pumping."

AUXILIARIES COME in all ages and from all backgrounds. The program has seen doctors and lawyers, plumbers and electricians, retired firefighters and CIA officers, students, computer engineers, federal employees, schoolteachers and a former U.S. ambassador.

Many of those who have joined the program said they did so in order to serve their community.

"After 9-11, I finally realized the impact that an airplane can do to my community," said Laurian Cannon, a flight attendant and Centreville resident, who has been teaching Spanish as an auxiliary officer for about a year.

"In my case, I'm a naturalized U.S. citizen, and it was my way to give back to the community," said Christina Rosas of McLean, a three-year member of the program and federal employee who comes originally from Mexico.

"You're always out there," said Don Brodie, an auxiliary from Springfield. "Even if you're in civilian clothes, you can always service the community and help the department."

Payton calls the program "the ultimate in community policing. You've got your community policing."

But that kind of community policing can take its toll. Scott said his work with the department has taken him away from his wife and children for long stretches of time on assignments that can become dangerous.

"She pays the price for it. Our kids pay the price for it," he said.

And if disaster were to strike Fairfax County, Scott and other auxiliaries would have to decide whether to evacuate with their families or stay and help the department.

"You're constantly standing around and thinking, 'If something happens, what are you going to do?'"

Also, it can be difficult to readjust to civilian life on Monday morning after spending the weekend as a police officer, working tough situations like bad car accidents.

"You don't want to talk about some of the stuff," Scott said.

Still, Scott said he has no regrets.

"After 12 years, it's still just as much of a thrill to go to the station and get dressed and just sit in a police car," he said. "You never know what's going to happen when you pull out of the station."