SHOW LOW — Now one knows for sure, but it could be that the Show Low Police Department Senior Patrol was the first of its kind in the nation.
“As far as I know we were the first (police agency) in the country to have a Senior Patrol. It was an unheard of concept before us,” Show Low Cmdr. Brad Provost said.
He said there were even some in the community who thought putting retired people in police uniforms could be questionable and would not last.
But 30 years later the program is going strong and has proved itself to be very effective, useful and appreciated in the community. The members of the Senior Patrol came together for a banquet to celebrate the unit’s 30th anniversary on Saturday, June 1 with a dinner and a ceremony at Pineglen Homeowner’s Association clubhouse. About 60 people attended the event.
“There was some uncertainty about putting civilians in uniforms and putting them out on the street to help us out with certain things,” Provost said.
He said the Senior Patrol was formed in 1989 under the watch of then Chief John Corder, a forward thinker who decided to give it a try even though there was no model to reference.
They had to start from scratch.
So the Show Low Police Department, along with Otto Epp and Bob Edwards, went about determining how best to use their newly founded Senior Patrol.
They found that one of the best first uses was as a house watch program.
Gehlen and Provost said that one of the biggest complaints from the public in 1989 came from seasonal homeowners who found their residences burglarized when they came up for a stay, typically in summer.
“That changed drastically for the better after we started the Senior Patrol,” Provost said.
Another thing that the SLPD Senior Patrol turned out the be very useful in was handicapped parking enforcement. The Senior Patrol is still very active both in home watches and parking enforcement.
But that is not all they do. They are also a key unit during special events, performing traffic control.
Provost said that the Senior Patrol plays a key role in finding things like open doors at private residences and businesses, broken-leaking water pipes on properties, and other common things associated with private (and sometimes public/city) property that they make note of so the appropriate people can be notified and take care of it.
Verne Gehlen, currently a member of the Senior Patrol, has been a volunteer for eight years. He said when the Senior Patrol first came into existence there was a feeling of division between them and the regular patrol officers. Not animosity, but just a division of sorts due to ambiguity about how a senior patrol would work out since it was something no one had ever tried before.
Becoming a Senior Patrol member (55 years or older) requires a background check (including fingerprinting), three days of patrol training, four days of academy classes and training at the Northland Pioneer College Academy in Snowflake-Taylor. A total of 21 hours of field/classroom training is involved.
Members must also be able to meet minimum duty hour requirement and have to be in “reasonably good physical condition,” Gehlen said.
Right now they are seeking more members. They have 22 officers but at one time boasted 27 officers.
But keep in mind that it is a strictly volunteer force with the city covering only the cost of patrol vehicles, fuel for those vehicles and maintenance. Uniforms and everything else associated with being a Senior Patrol member comes out of the member’s own pockets.
Both Gehlen and Provost said the Senior Patrol has become part of the SLPD family adding that past members have stayed active until they no longer could and some even until the died.
That is why even though SLPD officers, like all police agencies, have little time to themselves, they find the time as often as possible to check on former and current Senior Patrol members who may not be in the best of health to make sure they are OK.
So the next time you see one of them performing traffic control, doing parking enforcement or house watches, give a little wave and a “Thank You” for a job well done to those who volunteer with no thought of accolades or enrichment on their part other than serving their community.
Anyone interested in joining the SLPD Senior Patrol, or just wants more information on it, can contact the SLPD at 928-537-5091.