HUNTSVILLE — The number of eyes and ears patrolling Weber County could be jumping dramatically.
But no, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t suddenly received an influx of funds allowing it to hire for additional needs. Rather, Sheriff Ryan Arbon, fulfilling a pledge when he ran for the post last year, has implemented an initiative — Volunteers in Police Service, or VIPS — that’s aimed at putting more trained volunteers on the streets. The program is taking off in Huntsville and the Ogden Valley, while the mayors of Washington Terrace and Marriott-Slaterville say they’re eager to get it up and running in their cities.
“It’s like a mobile Neighborhood Watch kind of thing,” said Huntsville Mayor Jim Truett, a VIPS backer, alluding to another national program that encourages homeowners to watch for suspect activity in their neighborhoods. “They’re eyes and ears for the department.”
Arbon, who took office in January after winning the sheriff’s race last November, eventually hopes to implement VIPS in all eight contract cities the sheriff’s office serves — Farr West, Plain City, Hooper, Uintah, West Haven, Huntsville, Marriott-Slaterville and Washington Terrace. He’d also like to see it take off in Weber County’s unincorporated areas, where the sheriff’s office, too, has jurisdiction.
“We see safer neighborhoods, safer streets,” said Arbon, citing the expected upshot of the initiative, formally launched on Aug. 1.
As of Friday, the sheriff’s office had 26 VIPS volunteers on board from around the county, with recruitment continuing. All told, Arbon hopes for 20 to 30 volunteers in each of the eight contract cities, which would represent a force of 160 to 240, though they wouldn’t all be patrolling at the same time. As is, the sheriff’s office currently has 56 patrol deputies and school resource officers on staff, according to Lt. Mark Horton, who’s aiding in implementation of VIPS.
The VIPS volunteers, working in pairs and driving a VIPS-marked pickup when on the road, aren’t meant to replace sheriff’s deputies. They’ll serve as their personal schedules allow.
Instead, Arbon sees them as augmenting the force, patrolling and serving as a deterrent to crime and helping with more routine matters, like traffic control and parking violations. Volunteers face criminal background checks and drug testing as well as training. They won’t be armed or carry badges, though they’ll wear bright yellow polo shirts identifying them as VIPS volunteers, and they won’t intervene if they come across suspicious activity, calling it in to sheriff’s deputies instead.
“Keeps more of the deputies out doing patrol work,” said Sgt. Terence Lavely, who’s helping implement the program. That is, if a VIPS volunteer can handle traffic control at an accident scene, say, it frees up a deputy to pursue other duties. Lavely foresees VIPS volunteers also handling things like vehicle identification number inspections, a required duty deputies now handle for private car sales, and other functions.
Thus far, the existing pool of volunteers has helped with traffic control at the Weber County Fair last month and the Tour of Utah when it came through Weber County on Aug. 14 and more. They’ve logged a total of 380 hours of duty between them.
“I think across the board, they’re interested in helping the sheriff’s office and serving the community,” said Lavely, referencing the motivation of the VIPS volunteers. “It’s just an interest in serving their areas and being more active in their communities.”
Washington Terrace Mayor Mark Allen, potentially interested in volunteering himself, sees VIPS as a way to better utilize the sheriff’s office’s limited resources.
Marriott-Slaterville Mayor Scott VanLeeuwen, eager to implement VIPS in the city, sees the program as a way to keep better tabs on potential misdeeds. Volunteers are “not there to enforce the law. They’re there to be the eyes and ears for the police department, sheriff’s department,” he said.