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Giving back to the community

Polk County Sheriff's Office SALT unit an asset to the department3

SALT team members Myrna Simmons, left, and her husband Wayne work the metal detector station at the public entrance to Courtroom No. 4 at the Polk County Jail Friday, one of a variety of duties that SALT members perform.

Photo by Pete Strong

SALT team members Myrna Simmons, left, and her husband Wayne work the metal detector station at the public entrance to Courtroom No. 4 at the Polk County Jail Friday, one of a variety of duties that SALT members perform.

May 28, 2013

POLK COUNTY -- Rick Long and Brian McGlynn load a Polk County Sheriff's cruiser with a cooler of evidence destined for processing at the Oregon State Police lab in Springfield on Friday morning.

Though they are in uniform, they are not sheriff's deputies. They are not even sheriff's office employees, but volunteers with the Polk County Sheriff's Office Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (SALT) unit.

The weekly or twice-weekly trip to Springfield is just one of the duties of the 26-volunteer unit, but it may be the most valuable.

"They have to go all the way to Springfield and they do that once or twice a week, every week," said Polk Sgt. Mike Holsapple, the unit's liaison. "We only have one evidence clerk now and if she had to make that trip once or twice per week, that would take her away from her duties at the office for hours at a time."

Without the SALT unit, he said the office would eventually have to resort to mailing the evidence, which would take longer. Holsapple noted that SALT volunteers also deliver evidence from other county law enforcement agencies, which are struggling with staffing shortages.

"I wanted to give back to my community," said Long, a retired police officer, giving a simple but sincere explanation as to why he volunteers his time.

Former Polk County Sheriff Ray Steele launched the program in the 1990s, modeling it after a national program that encourages seniors to get involved with local law enforcement.

In addition to escorting evidence to the crime lab, volunteers -- who can be anyone 21 years or older -- operate the metal detector downstairs from the courtroom in the Polk County Jail and move the office's radar speed detection sign throughout the county to remind drivers of speed limits.

SALT unit president Kelly Cape can list many, many more duties volunteers have taken on from time to time. He said volunteers perform traffic control at accidents and crime scenes, park the unit's cruiser near "trouble spots" to keep drivers mindful of speed limits, pick up witnesses for court dates, or just assist with records and clerical duties.

Cape, who joined the unit six years ago, said SALT will soon begin recruiting more volunteers for the next "SALT Academy" training session in the fall.

SALT member Brian McGlynn signs a form to verify the chain of custody for an evidence parcel, left, that he and Rick Long were taking to the state crime lab Friday.

Photo by Pete Strong

SALT member Brian McGlynn signs a form to verify the chain of custody for an evidence parcel, left, that he and Rick Long were taking to the state crime lab Friday.

Members may say it isn't the measure of the day-to-day excitement of working with the unit that drove them to give their time to the cause.

"It can be interesting; it can be boring," said volunteer Myrna Simmons, who joined about a year and a half ago.

But it's important, nonetheless. Staffing shortages due to continual county budget cuts have deputies, records technicians and clerical staff long on responsibilities and short on time. SALT volunteers are keenly aware of the situation.

"I was interested in the safety of the people of Polk County," McGlynn said. "It eliminates deputies from having to do these kinds of jobs."

McGlynn, Long, Simmons and her husband, Wayne Simmons, were part of the most recent three-month training academy class that included 12 members. That helped fill the shrinking ranks, which had fallen to around 15 members in 2011.

As SALT members are not deputized, they are generally not put in positions where they would be in danger, but they are trained regardless to mitigate situations or radio for help. Most times, however, people are just curious about the group's affiliation to the sheriff's office and what SALT members do.

McGlynn, right, and Rick Long load the evidence parcel into the SALT unit

Photo by Pete Strong

McGlynn, right, and Rick Long load the evidence parcel into the SALT unit's cruiser to deliver it to Springfield.

"It's rather interesting, when you put the uniform on, how people will just come up to you and ask you questions," Cape said. "We do a lot of PR for the department."

With each volunteer pitching in at least eight hours per month -- and many much more -- the unit does more than simply represent the office well.

"If they weren't there to do it (their responsibilities), it wouldn't get done," Holsapple said. "Or it would take other administrative staff away from what they are doing every day."

Learn More

* For more information: 503-623-9251 or visit www.co.polk.or.us/sheriff/seniors-and-law-enforcement-together-salt.

SALT volunteers need to be at least 21 years old and dedicate at least eight hours per month and complete a 12-week training course.

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