Senior volunteers keeping neighborhoods safe through Spokane COPS | Crime
They call themselves the eyes of police officers. Senior volunteers with Spokane COPS wear the blue and perform patrols, but they’re not officers of the law. Through donated time to the non-profit program, they help how they can by directing traffic during Bloomsday, prevent crime through education and even check on homes while residents are on vacation.
We caught up with two volunteers while they sat on their coffee break at east Spokane’s Donut Parade. They’re right in home with the regulars. Both Hazel Vercruysse, 87, and Dennis Eddy, 71, had wrapped up their house checks for the morning. They only average about five house checks a week, but explained the extra presence out there helps.
“We had one on east 2nd [avenue] today,” Eddy recounted. “We checked out a house and there was a lady inside the house and there wasn’t supposed to be.”
The woman turned out to be a sister of the resident, but in times like that, Eddy explained they have to find out who and why they’re there. Sometimes they have to call in an officer especially when they come across broken doors and windows.
Vercruysse said they’ve checked on two homes in the past that were broken into. They found signs of forced entry into the home, sometimes a door chiseled through. The incident is handed off to an officer that’s called to the scene and they investigate what has happened.
The senior volunteers help point out the unusual in the community - the things that aren’t supposed to be there.
“One time we saw a car going around and around the park. To us, it looked suspicious that they were doing this so we called an officer and he came out. Turns out, they were teaching some fellow to drive,” Eddy explained. “It wasn’t normal, so we called it in.”
The house checks are most popular during the holiday season. Vercruysse says they’ve had at most 15 homes to check during their volunteer shift. It’s a basic perimeter check because they never go inside the home. They’ll make sure the doors, windows and even cars are locked.
“We don’t go in and water plants or feed the cat,” Vercruysse explained.
The COPS partners explained their history to the program while they still sipped their black coffee. Vercruysse started sporting the volunteer badge 23-years-ago when her son gave her the idea while he worked at the Spokane County Jail.
“He said, ‘Mom, I know something you can do. I was at the jail today and there was this old guy who came in and was about your age.’,” Vercruysse recalled. “He got talking to him and turns out he volunteers with the police department. It sounded kind of fun so I pursued it.”
Eddy didn’t know Vercruysse before volunteering, but now they’re partners in crime prevention.
“Isn’t she lucky?” Eddy said as he teased Vercruysse. She responded: “He’s the new kid on the block.”
Eddy has spent only four years volunteering with the program after he moved from California. He needed something to do.
“It’s great because it gets us both out of the house,” Vercruysse added. “I like it because for 23 years, I’ve been happy.”
The two wrap up their coffee break and prepare for the mail run. The COP shops need their mail and they’re the people to do it. Decades ago, these were tasks that would have been done by officers, but now they’ve been handed over to them. The responsibility comes with the uniform.
“We gotta wear something,” Vercruysse said. “It’s just when you join, you get a uniform. That shows who you are.”
House checks for homeowners are available to those who live in single residence housing. They do not check duplexes, apartments, condos are gated communities. To request a check while you’re out for a few days, call Spokane COPS at (509) 622-5885.