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  History   VIPS

Volunteers in Police Service

Police Department Welcomes New Team Members
Niles VIPs:  Volunteers in Police Service

The 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 questions. 

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. Back To Top

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 VIPS department.

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 Palmisano.

James 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 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. Back To Top

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. Back To Top

Tom EvonsTom 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. 

Rick PalmisanoRick 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.