The same holds true for any organization. The Rockford community has a jewel in its volunteer police officers. Situated in the heart of downtown Rockford, the Rockford Police Department Volunteer Service Unit (VSU) officers patrol our charming community searching for parking violations, sidewalks in disrepair or in need of shoveling, as well as patrolling trails as needed, helping shut-ins, and checking on the homes of citizens who are on vacation. In addition to those duties, VSU officers answer questions at their downtown “headquarters,” the Welcome Center in the heart of downtown Rockford.
VSU officers serve at special events such as the Start of Summer celebration, National Night Out, parades, and other community activities. They help with traffic control, crowd control, and in other ways. They have two vehicles for their patrols-a donated Jeep Cherokee and a golf cart with police lights. They have the authority to approach someone who is breaking the law and they have the means to call for back up. All volunteers are equipped with a walkie-talkie that is a direct line to the Rockford Police Department dispatchers, who oversee the VSU. Any sign of trouble is immediately called in to dispatch and a police officer is sent to their location without delay.
The VSU officers don’t get paid monetarily; they get paid with feelings of pride by helping to make their community safer, cleaner, and happier. One such volunteer, Jim Herdegen, retired from Steelcases’ manufacturing engineering division. He has been volunteering with the VSU for over three years and has also been at God’s Kitchen in Grand Rapids for six years. Prior to his stint downtown he volunteered at the Michigan Community Blood Center. He volunteers his time because he likes being able to meet people from all over including, England and Ireland. He recalls a story of how a woman from west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin had ridden her bike to Rockford and was looking for trail information. Moments after he sent this woman on her way to a local restaurant, a couple from the Rockford area came into the Welcome Center looking for trails to get them to Wisconsin. He quickly told this couple to go to the restaurant and find the woman that he spoke to minutes before.
When not in the Welcome Center or doing any of their other duties, the VSU officers may be found on the White Pine Trail “catching” children riding with their helmets on. Instead of a ticket they give out stickers, badges, and occasionally, coupons donated by local businesses for a free ice cream cone or french fries. A humorous tale was also told of the day Jim had to ticket someone right outside of the courthouse who parked in a handicapped parking spot without having the proper tag.
He said, “I had to give him a ticket. He parked right in front of the courthouse. I laughed as I wrote the ticket.” Moments like those are what make his efforts and time spent worthwhile.
Volunteers with the VSU only work one or two days per week, which allows plenty of time to pursue other hobbies and interests. When you walk into the Welcome Center, you are given the opportunity to talk to a volunteer, grab a brochure of a local merchant, or peruse a guide of the downtown businesses (designed, in part, by Jim). When you are at the Welcome Center look on the back wall of the office and you’ll see several of Jim’s photographs showcasing the Rockford area and other VSU volunteers doing their jobs. He is quite an accomplished photographer.
Volunteers like Jim are few and far between. The Rockford Police Department Volunteer Service Unit is always looking for additional members. Currently there are 15 volunteers, but they could use a few more. Applications are available at the Welcome Center or at the Rockford Police Department. You may turn applications in at the police department. All applicants will be screened and a background check will be completed. There are no requirements for volunteering other than having a willing heart to serve the community of Rockford.