SOUTH PORTLAND — On any given weekday morning, people who enter the Police Department will likely be greeted by Dave Twombly, a bespectacled and mustachioed retired police officer who volunteers his time at the department’s front desk.
Twombly, 64, has been volunteering for three years through the Volunteers in Police Services, or VIPS, program.
Managed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the program was started as an offshoot of the Citizen Corps initiative launched by former President George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11. The program was designed to encourage citizens to help make their communities “safer from threats of crime, terrorism, and disasters of all kinds,” according to its website.
The South Portland Police Department adopted the program in 2010, but never formally advertised that it had done so. Most people still don’t know it exists, according to the VIPS coordinator, Officer Linda Barker. The number of volunteers who work at least eight hours a month didn’t even reach 10 last year, she said.
To volunteer through the VIPS program, one does not have to have a law enforcement background, Barker said. Of the seven regular volunteers, Twombly stands alone with his extensive police experience.
For nearly 30 years in the Scarborough Police Department, where he “was everything except chief,” Twombly said he devoted himself to ensuring the safety of others.
That devotion has continued into retirement.
Staffing the front desk was a special request made by Twombly when he first arrived as a volunteer, Lt. Frank Clark said.
Prior to 2011, when the South Portland emergency dispatch center was in the Police Department, a shortage of available people in the department’s lobby to direct visitors was never an issue, Frank said.
But since the dispatch center was consolidated with Portland’s, the “lobby has been relatively unstaffed,” Frank said.
That made Twombly uncomfortable.
“What I saw, as a police officer walking in here, was that the lobby was empty,” said Twombly.
He was concerned about the possibility of a situation – which has occurred twice, Clark said – where a woman might be fighting with an abusive boyfriend in her car nearby, would see the police station and pull in for help, but find only a sign directing her to pick up a phone and call for assistance.
“As a former police officer, he recognized a need,” Barker said.
Twombly now occupies the front desk from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“He is now the face of the South Portland Police Department, and I don’t have anything but positive things to say,” Clark said. “Each VIP offers something special to the community.”
In addition to the front desk, Twombly also performs routine neighborhood patrols in his designated VIPS squad car, as well as security checks of vacant homes. None of the VIPS carry weapons, so it’s especially important for citizens to understand that they are volunteers and not officers, Clark said.
As for other VIPS, they choose where they want to volunteer.
“These jobs are out there,” Twombly said, “and if you like a certain thing, no one’s going to say no.”
Dave Twombly, 64, a former Scarborough police officer, volunteers at the front desk of the South Portland Police Department. Twombly wears a special Volunteers in Police Services shirt and drives a designated police volunteer car.
More information about the Volunteers in Police Services program is available on the Police Department section of the South Portland city website, southportland.org. Applications are also online, or from Officer Linda Barker at 799-9720 ext. 7424.
Officer Jonathan Stearns
SOUTH PORTLAND — Police Officer Jonathan Stearns has been named the 2014 Officer of the Year.
Stearns joined the Police Department in early 2013. He has twice been named Officer of the Month.
“Officer Stearns is also acquiring a reputation for being proactive and thorough, and for maintaining a positive and professional demeanor,” Lt. Frank Clark said in a press release. “He comes to work each day prepared to serve our community and make South Portland a better place to live, work, visit and attend school.”
Stearns will receive two extra paid vacation days, a plaque and an award pin.