Volunteers in Police
Police Department and the Department of Public Works had
discussed for some time the possibility of having a citizen patrol in Niles.
We envisioned many benefits for the city. We felt it would be
helpful to have volunteers patrol the City's parks and downtown area
so people using the park and shopping in the downtown area would see
the presence of City representatives who were there to answer
We also wanted a program where the
volunteers were empowered to be problem solvers for the community.
That way if there were parking, code enforcement, street, water, or
sanitation issues the volunteers would be trained in how to notify
the appropriate department in the city about the problem the issue
could be quickly resolved.
Another part of the program we
considered was how we were going to provide transportation for the
volunteers in a form that could be easily operated in the city streets and
on park paths. We looked at golf carts but they are not legal
to operate on the street. While doing this research we came
across an electric vehicle called a GEM. This vehicle seemed
like a perfect fit. It is legal to operate on the street and
is small enough to safely operate in a park setting. It also
has quite a bit of visual appeal which we hoped would attract
people's attention to the program and residents would quickly
recognize the vehicle as belonging to the program.
Once we felt we had a good idea of
the direction we were going to take with the volunteer program we asked the City Council for approval to more forward. The City
Council unanimously approved the concept. The Police
Department then submitted the program to the International
Association of Chief's of Police (IACP) for acceptance into the
national Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program. The
Police Department's program received an IACP certificate in 2007 designating the Niles Police Department as a certified
At this time we were still having some issues with
just how we were going to fund the VIPS program and purchase the GEM
electric cars. One of our Niles citizens contacted the Police
Department and asked if they could donate to the program. With
their very kind donation we were able to purchase the GEM electric
cars and with the use of some drug forfeiture money we were able to
fully fund the VIPS program without using any taxpayer money.
We advertised, recruited and trained citizens to serve as Volunteers
in Police Service. Current volunteers are James Wagner, Robert Hutchinson, Julie Winquist, Tom Evons, and Rick
Wagner moved to the Niles area in 1940. Mr. Wagner worked all
his life around the Niles area except for two years when the Army
wanted him. Mr. Wagner served the Niles community as a City
Council member for 23 years and has been retired for about 15 years.
Other than the VIPS program Mr. Wagner stays busy volunteering his
time driving for the Senior Center and driving the VA van to Battle
Creek. Mr. Wagner also stays very active with the Apple
Festival and two years ago he and his wife were crowned Applefest
King and Queen.
Robert Hutchinson has lived in the
Niles/Buchanan area all his life. Mr. Hutchinson was called to
the Air Force for 3 ½ years and then served the City of Buchanan
for 23 years as a police officer, 18 of the 23 years Mr. Hutchinson
was a Sergeant with the department. He retired from police
work in 1987 and went to work for the Berrien County Intermediate
School District. Mr. Hutchinson's wife's work took them to
Ohio for about 10 years where he worked for the Worthington School
District. He and his wife have been back in the area since
2001. They have been married for 51 years and have four
children who also live in the area. Other than volunteer work
Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson enjoy traveling on their motorcycle.
Julie Winquist was born and raised in Niles.
Shortly after graduating from Niles High School she served as a
Seabee in the United States Navy. Ms. Winquist is currently
working as a software engineer for Sage Software while also
finishing her bachelor's degree in Computer and Information
Security. Ms. Winquist has a son who attends Ring Lardner
Junior High School. She says she joined VIPS as a way of
giving back to the community and honoring her grandfather, Paul
Winquist, who served the City of Niles as a Captain in the Niles
Police Department's Detective Bureau.
Evons spent most of his early years in Texas then moved to
California for a number of years. More recently Mr. Evons and
his wife lived in the South Bend area and are now residents of the
Niles area. Mr. Evons has an extensive history of volunteering
his services to the communities he lives in. Mr. Evons
said he read about the VIPS program and felt it was another good way
he could be involved in the community and interact with people in an
open and casual way. Mr. Evons also said he felt the VIPS
program could be the starting point for many other community
programs hosted by the city.
Palmisano has been a resident of the Niles-Buchanan area for the
past 23 years. He and his wife, Tracy have a son, Andre.
Mr. Palmisano has served the Michiana area professionally as a
Licensed Funeral Director in the states of Michigan and Indiana, as
well as in Arizona. Since 1992, he has been employed at
Halbritter Funeral Home in Niles. Mr. Palmisano and his family
are members of the Edwardsburg S.D.A. Church and he is a board
member of Polly's Place, a shelter for battered women in Niles.
His other hobbies include motorcycles, muscle cars, and vacations in
the Caribbean. Mr. Palmisano says he enjoys having personal
interaction with the community and he is interested in giving back
to the community he lives in which is the biggest reason why he
volunteered for the VIPS program.
The City of Niles has high hopes
for this program. We are looking forward to our VIPS having a
very visible presence during summer park time and at all our
community events. We hope our citizens and visitors to our
community take advantage of the VIPS by using them to answer
questions or act as a liaison to other city departments to help
solve problems. If you are interested in volunteering
for this program contact Catherine Jackson, Human Resource
Specialist for an application. Cathy is located in City Hall
or call her at 683-4700 ext. 229. If you have general
questions about the program call the Niles Police Department at
683-3282 and ask to speak with Captain Jim Merriman or Police Chief
Ric Huff. They will be happy to talk to you about the program.