Outfitted with little more than blue jackets and magnetic car door signs, concerned Soldotna residents cruise the streets each summer keeping a watchful eye out for suspicious activity.
They are the Soldotna Community Patrol, a civilian group of volunteers who for the past six years have worked alongside the police department to help keep the city safe. On Wednesday, the community patrol met at Farnsworth Park in Soldotna to outline its plans for the traditional busy summer months of June and July.
The meeting was led by Soldotna Police Chief Shirley Gifford. Gifford told the 20 members of the patrol who attended how much her department appreciates the help it gets from the volunteer force.
"The work all of you do during the summer contributes greatly to our low crime rate. I know all of you are very, very busy people, and you take time out to patrol the city and make sure it's safe," Gifford said.
Indeed, the community patrol has already been logging an impressive amount of time on the streets. Gifford noted that the patrols have racked up more than 200 hours of patrol time this summer.
The Soldotna community patrol was created seven years ago because of an apparent high rate of vandalism, according to Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker.
"We did have a rash of vandalism when we started this. Having people out there has really curbed that activity," Boedeker said. "It's a deterrent factor."
The patrol is made up largely of longtime Soldotna residents who want to give something back to the community. They take turns cruising the streets in private vehicles, looking out for any suspicious activity. They report any such activity to the police, who can then use that information to enforce the laws, according to Sgt. Rob Quelland of the Soldotna Police Department.
"They call in a lot of suspicious activity," he said.
Quelland said that, especially during the summer months, the department is under a heavy work load. Quelland said the community patrol relieves some of that pressure on police officers.
"It's like having another patrolman out there," he said.
Quelland noted the greatest benefit of the patrols is the deterrent factor of having them on the streets.
"We don't know how many crimes they prevent," he said.
The members of the patrol say they just want to give something back to their community. Ed Sleater is in his second year on the patrol. He said he likes the fact that visitors to Soldotna can feel safer knowing the community is taking an active role in public safety.
"It's rewarding, and it's great public relations with visitors. People come through here and we tell them that it's kind of a neighborhood watch with the whole community being the neighborhood. It makes them feel good," Sleater said.
"Plus, it gets me out of the house," he joked.
Members of the patrol are enthusiastic about helping out. The only problem, it seems, is that the city is almost too law-abiding.
"The good part is we find very few problems. The bad thing is it gets kind of boring," said patrol member Dick Traeger.
Patrol member Bill Wirin agreed, saying boredom is evidence the patrols are working.
"The real value of the program is people know there are citizens out there watching. That's why it gets boring."
Chief Gifford said the value of the patrols cannot be overstated.
"It really helps the officers. I just couldn't be happier," she said.
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