By BETH ALTENA
They can give you a ticket, but they would rather sell you a calendar. Members of the Rockford Volunteer Police Services Unit are in their sixth year helping Rockford be a safer place to be paid for, in part, by sales of a community calendar featuring beautiful views of Rockford representing each month.
Sandy Karl said she has been a volunteer for Rockford pretty much since Chief Dave Jones began the program some eight years ago. Part of a comprehensive community outreach, the members of the unit, like Rockford officers, interact with the public as often as they can in a positive way.
“We patrol the parks and the White Pine Trail, pick up trash, give directions, answer people’s questions,” said Karl. Karl said the visibility of the uniformed volunteers is important, adding to the sense of safety many mention when asked what they appreciate about Rockford.
“They want people who interact,” Karl said. “We are representing the police.” Karl said the types of jobs assigned to the volunteers vary. They check on people’s homes when they are out of town, give tickets to those illegally parked in handicapped spots, help out at the many festivals held in downtown, directing traffic or doing other necessary jobs.
“It really is important or the police couldn’t do what they do,” she stated. “Every profession has volunteers, or they couldn’t do what they do either—hospitals, homes, food pantries, anything.” Karl said she loves her volunteer work and contributing to the community. Newer to Rockford, she was extremely thrilled with the town after choosing an apartment here a decade ago.
“I love it here. I wouldn’t move for anything,” she stated. “The people here are so friendly, the town is so beautiful. Everything I hear about Rockford is always positive.
”Karl said she believes people should volunteer in their communities if they are able, and that the more people contribute to where they live, the better they can feel about it. She said she can’t imagine not volunteering or helping out in some way.
So positive is the experience of being a volunteer police representative that the unit is full, and volunteers stay on unless something takes them from the area. Karl remembers Sam Russell, who left the department years ago, but who set up the partnerships of the volunteers.
“She matched up everybody, and she was excellent at that. Joan and I have been partners six and a half years, and we are so much alike it’s not funny. We laugh and have so much fun and always get along.”
Karl said Russell was so astute at picking partners that none of her pairings have failed, even after all this time. “What do you do if you have a partner you don’t get along with? I don’t know because it hasn’t happened here.”
Finding reasons to laugh don’t always happen on purpose. Karl recalls one incident that remains legendary in the department, and not in a good way. “We were going to check a house, and Joan was the one who went up to check doors. That’s what we do, check doors and windows and all around the house. First thing she noticed was the garage door was not locked. She checked the door from the garage to the house and that wasn’t locked either,” Karl stated.
Worried about the worst, a break-in, Karl called the department and within minutes officers were on the scene to assess the situation. They discovered the pair was actually checking the wrong home and the resident was indoors and just fine, surprised by the official attention.
“I mentioned it at the next meeting we had with the whole department, and Joan looked like she was going to kill me,” Karl said. “We will never live that down.”
One of Karl’s favorite duties as volunteer is not to reprimand but to reward. Kids spotted on their bikes wearing helmets are given a coupon to McDonalds for a free treat. Karl said she gives them to the parents, too, rewarding them for raising their kids to be safety-conscious.
The calendars this year, as last year, feature images taken by Rockford photographer Michelle Wise. The pictures are all seasonal, all breathtaking and would be a great gift for anyone who loves Rockford but is living elsewhere, as well as for anyone who could use the pick-me-up of beautiful photography throughout 2013. The cost is $12 and the calendars can be found around town, at Great Northern Trading Company, Sage N Roses, Dam Dogs, Aunt Candy’s Toy Company, Grand Cakes, Right At Home, Ace Hardware, the Welcome Center, Wise Photography and at the Rockford Police Department.
Karl said the calendar sales pay for much of the expense of the volunteers, which does not include any compensation for members. “People hear I am a volunteer and they say, ‘What do they pay you?’ Volunteer means you are doing it for free. What’s not to understand about that?”