A badge of volunteer service

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Three years ago, Patrick Ho decided to explore an opportunity to give back to his community and push himself out of his comfort zone. The CEO of Rochester Optical chose to join the Greece Special Police Department.

At that time, Ho was 60 and didn’t expect to qualify. He did pass muster, however, and has been serving in the 35-member group since then. 

“It gave me a whole new perspective of the risks law enforcement (officers) have to take every day when they go to work,” Ho says. “I got to appreciate that the safety that we have is at the sacrifice of others, who are out there to do the job.”

GSPD, a unit of New York State certified peace officers, is looking to find more people like Ho. It issued a call for new recruits a few weeks ago, to grow its ranks. The unit can have up to 55 members. It supports the Greece Police Department and the town of Greece by providing additional manpower at special events—races, parades and other functions—for traffic and crowd control. 

Michael DiCataldo

In addition, GSPD assists with emergency calls related to weather, an accident or a fire that require coordinating traffic or manning closed roads. It enforces all parking laws within the town and patrols the town plazas and streets enforcing the handicapped parking spaces, fire lanes, no parking areas and winter parking restrictions. 

“The special police have been around since the ’50s,” says GSPD Chief Michael DiCataldo, who owns Trophies and Awards by NYRA. “We were called auxiliary police for many years under the Civil Defense Law. And then back in 1997, Monroe County gave up auxiliary police. So, each town had to create their own special police unit.”

DiCataldo joined when he was 19. He planned on a career in law enforcement and though that didn’t pan out, DiCataldo stayed on. 

“I still had the passion to stay with the unit because it helped the community out, and it was something that I enjoyed doing, even though I didn’t get the full-time aspect of law enforcement,” he says.

The team has men and women of various age groups. Applicants—who must be U.S. citizens and residents of Monroe County who are at least 20 years of age—go through a vetting process akin to the Police Department. Candidates that make the cut undergo 13 weeks of training from February to May at the Monroe County Public Safety building downtown. Training sessions take place three times a week in the evenings. Volunteers are expected to serve a minimum of 12 hours a month.

“What I like to say about our unit is that it could fit almost anybody’s schedule because of the way the details that we do are scheduled in and the parks and schools patrols that we do are scheduled,” DiCataldo says. “Twelve hours is a minimum and I think everybody could find 12 hours a month in a busy schedule.”

At the end of the year, it’s not unusual for the GSPD to honor volunteers with full-time jobs, like DiCataldo and Ho, who served 200 hours or more. Each year, the GSPD members together contribute an average of 6,000 to 8,000 hours of service. 

While he has volunteered for more than three decades, DiCataldo is cognizant of a split in the community’s perception of the police—some who support law enforcement officers and others who have concerns. 

“We try not to get into the politics of that, and we serve our community in the aspect that we have,” he says. “Within the last few months, I’ve received more compliments, and thanking us for doing our job, than negative impacts. I know it’s out there. We all know what’s out there. But we present ourselves in a professional way. And we’ve had, again, more positive than negative involvement with the community.”

More community involvement, like volunteering for GSPD, could offer some insight into what it means to be a police officer, Ho says.

“They would appreciate what they have, that they enjoy everyday life without fear is because of (the police),” he says. “And that’s why I stay on. I’ve been going on three years now. I have no desire to leave. I will continue to want to serve my community. This is a privilege to me.”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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