By BETHANY RODGERS
The Frederick News-Post
FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — In his career as a volunteer, Robert Heller Jr. has had his car rammed by a van, had someone throw a punch in his direction and had numerous insults lobbed at him.
Working as a member of the Frederick Police Department’s auxiliary unit isn’t the run-of-the mill way to serve the
But for every angry person Heller encounters as a volunteer with the department, he said he meets many others who are friendly and thankful. The chance to calm someone who is shaken up from an accident or to help reunite a parent and a lost child makes donning a uniform worthwhile.
“You don’t have to be paid to do that,” said Heller, a Frederick resident.
Heller started volunteering with the police auxiliary about five years ago.
Becoming a police officer was Heller’s goal when he returned in 1970 from serving overseas in the U.S. Army, but he didn’t meet the height requirement. So when he retired from a 40-year career with State Farm, he decided it was time to give law enforcement a try.
A 37-page application, a background check and nine weeks of training later, he was part of the team.
Aspects of the volunteer work — such as having an agency vehicle at his command or scribbling parking tickets — took some getting used to, though.
“When I first started, it was six months before I worked up the nerve to write my first parking ticket,” he said. “But once I got the first couple under my belt, I took off.”
He’s not kidding. Since Heller started volunteering, he has racked up as many hours as he would working a part-time job — 1,100 this year alone.
He and the 13 other members of the auxiliary last year put in more than 7,000 hours on the job. Paying officers to do the same work would have cost the city almost $250,000, according to an annual report.
“We’re one of the most well-kept secrets in the City of Frederick,” said Heller, who has been promoted to the rank of
sergeant in the auxiliary.
His group’s mission is to free up police officers to patrol the streets.
For instance, Heller will wait at accident scenes until a tow truck arrives or direct traffic if a signal is zapped in a power
failure. The auxiliary also handles funeral escorts and helps whenever it is needed at crime scenes.
The job can be exciting, Heller said. Once, someone was so irate about getting a parking ticket that he backed his van into Heller’s cruiser. Another time a disorderly woman at a concert took a swing at Heller when he tried to talk to her.
But Heller said he’s never been afraid for his safety and he likes the excitement of volunteering with the auxiliary. After 40 years of waiting, he is finally getting the chance to work with the police department.
“I’ve accomplished what I need to. I’m happy now,” he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)