COPS seeks new crop of citizens

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CUMBERLAND — It happens to many drivers. 

Cruising down a nice long stretch of freshly-paved road, not paying attention to their speed while listening to their favorite song. Suddenly, out of the corner of their eye, they spy a police cruiser lurking behind a bush or street sign.

Many drivers call it a speed trap – a way for police departments to shake down citizens, fill quotas and pad budgets.

But Cumberland Police Chief Joseph Charron says that is a misconception. 

“Some people consider stopping speeders as harassing,” Charron said. “But we consider it proactive. Crime is mobile. If you’re highly visible in your community it tends to keep that criminal element out of your community.”

Several local police departments hope to change perceptions about police during the second annual Citizen Oriented Policing School, or COPS, which is currently seeking applicants.

The deadline for applications is Aug. 13 and classes will be held on Wednesday nights for 10 weeks starting on Sept. 8. Meeting locations will rotate throughout the participating departments.

It will be the first time that Cumberland, along with Gorham and Windham, will participate in the program, which is offered in collaboration with Southern Maine Community College’s criminal justice program.

Residents in Portland, South Portland, Freeport, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Westbrook and communities served by the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office are eligible to apply.

Up to 40 residents will be chosen – 10 more than last year. Participants must pass a criminal background check; people with felony convictions or extensive criminal backgrounds will not be admitted.

Citizens who graduate from the program will not be trained as police officers and will have no law enforcement authority. They will, however, receive certificates and polo shirts with the COPS logo embossed on it.

South Portland Officer Linda Barker, who helped organize the COPS school, said last year’s classes were a smashing success. 

“It was beyond our expectations,” Barker said. “It was super.”

Barker said the South Portland citizens were so gung-ho, the department has decided to join the nationwide Volunteers in Policing Service program to keep them involved. VIPS was created shortly after 9/11, to increase community policing programs.

There are currently five residents enrolled in South Portland VIPS. Barker said the volunteers are just finishing their training and begin their work this month.

Barker said there will be more hands-on activities this year. People will investigate crime scenes, practice fingerprinting and practice “shoot, don’t shoot” scenarios on an automated machine used to train officers.

Citizens will also tour the Cumberland County Jail, learn about patrolling techniques, the hiring process, ethics, juvenile justice and dealing with the mentally ill, ethnic populations and specialty assignments.

Anyone interested in participating should contact their local police department for applications.

“It gives participants an inside look at what a police officer’s training is like,” Chief Charron said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or