Volunteering service: Chelsea COPS group serves as eyes and ears for city

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bill Wheldon believes Chelsea is a calm, peaceful town, and he wants to keep it that way.

Wheldon is co-leader of the Chelsea Citizen Observer Patrol (C.O.P.), an all-volunteer organization who considers itself the eyes and ears for the city.

C.O.P. is composed of Chelsea citizens who train to patrol neighborhoods and business areas in town in hopes of deterring crime. The program is sponsored by the city and the Shelby County Sheriff&8217;s Office.

&8220;I think it&8217;s important to be seen in different establishments, to check things out to make sure everything is okay,&8221; said Lori Cheney, who has been in the program for a year.

The members assist in emergencies such as car accidents. They also direct traffic when needed and help during the city&8217;s Christmas parade, Halloween festivities and Chelsea High School football games.

C.O.P. volunteers are not armed, nor do they confront anyone. Instead, they observe and report suspicious activities to the Sheriff&8217;s Office for investigation or action.

&8220;Any load we can keep off Sheriff deputies helps,&8221; said Wheldon.

Jay Jermany, who became interested in a similar program where his mother lived in Delray Beach, Fla., founded C.O.P. in Feb. 1999.

&8220;It intrigued him because we don&8217;t have a police department in Chelsea,&8221; said Wheldon.

Jermany arranged a meeting with Delray Beach leader Skip Brown, who became a mentor for the startup Chelsea group.

Since then the group has grown to nearly sixty members, 35 of which are currently serving. Ages of members also run the gamut, from 35 to 80.

Volunteers are asked to give a minimum of three hours a week to C.O.P.

&8220;They give a minimum of three hours a week,&8221; said Wheldon. &8220;We always get that. Some of us give a lot more.&8221;

Members say they get involved for many different reasons.

&8220;I was new here, and it was a way to meet people,&8221; said Russ Thuleen.

Linda Kelly said she joined because she wanted to get involved and &8220;payback&8221; something to her community.

Volunteers must first pass a background check, read the program&8217;s manual and watch a training video made with the original 17 C.O.P. members and the Shelby County Sheriff&8217;s Office.

Prospective members also must go on six patrols overseen be a mentor before earning their badges.

In order to drive one of the two cars donated by the Sheriff&8217;s Office, members must also pass a defensive driving course at Montevallo&8217;s Alabama Traffic Safety Center