There are more than 400 of them out on the streets, volunteering thousands of hours to help the Omaha Police Department. The annual awards were handed out at a banquet Tuesday night. It was a reminder of just how important their role is in fighting crime.
"We invited everybody to come out and have dinner with us. Really it gives our police department a chance to thank them,” said Sgt. Erin Dumont.
Police officers mixed with citizen patrollers from more than 30 groups.
“We patrol in our area at all times of the day and night, weekends and weekdays,” said Phil Vandechar.
Vandechar is one of them. He is responsible for four neighborhoods. He describes his job as vital.
"If someone who is not familiar with it that comes into the neighborhood they kind of think twice if they are there to do something they shouldn't,” said Vandechar.
He says it’s really all about exposure and having a presence in the neighborhood. But this year, one person will be recognized as Citizen Patroller of the Year.
“He puts out over 100 stickers a month,” said Bill Hanes.
His name is John McCaul, a disabled volunteer, who they call the sticker king thanks to his work at patrolling signs posted on city right of ways.
“Each year we have an annual event but John goes out there and does that on his own. Trying to get the people to them in the right place not the wrong place,” said Hanes. “We're all good guys but he is one of the better guys.”
Organizers say his job and the job of all these citizen patrollers is vital to helping stop crime in our city.
“They work hand in hand with us. They recognize that the police officers can't be everywhere, every second of every day. So really he provides an extra set of eyes and ears for the community,” said Sgt. Dumont.
Wednesday marks the start of another class of citizen patrol volunteers. It’s an 8-week course, described as "watered down" police training.