CENTRAL PARK — The Central Park Precinct is searching for new faces to join its auxiliary police unit — volunteers who would be the "eyes and ears" of the department, said the unit's commanding officer.
The precinct dedicated to the 843-acre park currently has 30 to 35 volunteers in its auxiliary police unit, but it's looking to bring the number to 100 in order to be in full force, according to Inspector Roger Thomas.
While they don't carry firearms, auxiliary officers play a crucial supporting role to police officers by helping out with patrols, handing out fliers informing residents of spikes in certain types of crime, and adding to the police presence at festivals, parades, concerts and fairs.
"They're out there to be the eyes and ears of the department," Thomas said. "They're an extra resource for the department and help ease it up for officers to do more important things."
Current volunteers are made up of people of all ages, from those in their early 20s to their mid-60s. The time commitment is a minimum of 12 hours per month, but most do more than that, Thomas said.
The hope is to build the auxiliary unit up to 100 officers so that the precinct has enough personnel where it needs it, particularly at big events like the New York City Marathon and the Global Citizens concerts that recently took over areas of Central Park, Thomas explained.
There's been a lull in recruitment over the past few years, but since Thomas became the auxiliary's commanding officer in March, he's made it his goal to bump up the numbers.
"It's not that there's been a lack of interest in volunteering," he said. "Years ago when I joined, people stayed in their jobs for 20 or 30 years. Now people change their jobs so much. When people work longer hours and switch their jobs, it makes it hard to volunteer. But I find once they join, they get a lot satisfaction out of volunteering with the NYPD and in helping their communities, so they stay as long as they can. The auxiliary police are a dedicated group of volunteers."
Thomas said he is in "reconstruction mode" with the unit, hoping to build it from the ground up again.
"I want to motivate them and when we get new people, I want to get them on the right track from day one about what is expected," he said. "It's a great place to volunteer and a pretty safe environment to work in."
To become an auxiliary police officer, volunteers need to be at least 17 years old, be a U.S. citizen, live or work in New York City, have a valid driver's license or state I.D. card and go through an extensive background check, according to the NYPD.
Basic training runs for 18 weeks, typically meeting once a week, although the auxiliary units in Manhattan train twice a week, Thomas said.
The Central Park Precinct has open enrollment, meaning anyone can apply to join the auxiliary at any time. However, training starts in September and March of every year, so applications must be completed at least a couple of months in advance, he explained.
Many auxiliary officers join in hopes of becoming a full-fledged NYPD officer, while others like having the volunteer experience on their resumes, Thomas added.
"This is a great program for young kids who want to become police officers," Thomas said. "Employers like to see people doing volunteer work, too, no matter what it is."
To apply to the auxiliary unit, visit the Central Park Precinct Community Council's website or call Roger Thomas at 646-355-8106.