Two citizen groups work in tandem to help Camano Island stretch its budget and extend the long arm of the law.
Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol is the service arm and Citizens Law Enforcement Support Foundation, or CLESF, is the fundraising arm.
Together, they aim to put better service within Island County’s reach.
Meet the dynamic duo
• Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol is a team of 42 volunteers who take turns working in the sheriff’s office and patrol the island. They look, listen, and if need be, alert deputies to problems. Citizen Patrol is part of the Sheriff’s department on the civil side with no law enforcement capabilities.
• CLESF, with about 20 members and many supporters, holds fundraisers, auctions and raffles to buy things the sheriff’s budget can’t afford, like a radar trailer or security cameras to catch thieves and garbage dumpers. Last year, CLESF raised nearly $9,000.
The two groups are intertwined. Indeed, many volunteers are members of both organizations and some CLESF funds support Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol.
Together, Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol and CLESF volunteers greet the public at events like National Night Out, the car show at Camano Center, Beer & Brats, Fire Department Open House and Soap Box Derby. They direct parking at the Kristofferson Pumpkin Project each fall.
“It brings an awareness of who we are and what we do,” Ram Prasad said. Prasad is the current CLESF president and an active Citizen Patrol volunteer.
Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol
Originally called Citizen on Patrol, Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol was founded in 1995. The founding group also raised $2,000 to buy a drug dog for the Camano Island precinct.
“The citizen patrol was run a little differently then. We didn’t know each other unless we patrolled with somebody,” Liz Tarbet said. She’s the only active member left of the original founders.
See Patrol, A6
Tarbet recalled when Twin City Foods burned down in 1996. She and John Hammond were posted at the top the Lands Hill, stopping traffic.
“We told people they couldn’t leave the island because the bridge was closed,” she said.
Now Tarbet is no longer patrolling. She’s on a team that regularly runs interoffice mail between Camano and Coupeville, the county seat on Whidbey Island.
Interoffice mail is secured in bags that are transported unopened. Likewise, ballot bags are transported, sealed and locked.
“On our day, it happens to be payday, so we always have people waiting for us when we come back,” she said.
Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol members meet monthly for breakfast. The group has evolved to be today’s vibrant, supportive organization, as social as it is helpful.
“The Sheriff’s Citizen’s Patrol is a valuable cog in the wheel that keeps county government running smoothly,” Deputy Bill Vaughn said.
“Anything Big Bill wants us to do, we do,” Citizen Patrol group captain and CLESF co-founder Earl Barnard said.
Although there is no age limit, many members are retired but still want to be useful.
“The newest person I just took on is the kid of our group; he’s 65. Some are in their mid-80s,” Barnard said. “We sometimes call ourselves the Senior Citizens Patrol.”
Volunteers each work four to 24 hours per month. Before joining, volunteers pass criminal background checks, driving tests and have a doctor’s OK that says they are fit for the duties. Then they go through training.
These volunteers process concealed pistol licenses and fingerprinting, transport interoffice mail and office equipment, and perform vacation checks for residents.
Before the organization formed, people needing to be fingerprinted had to go to Coupeville. Deputies had no time for vacation checks; they were hauling interoffice mail. It’s a three-hour round trip. Now deputies are free to respond to the needs of Camano’s residents.
“We are grateful for the service that these volunteers provide to the Sheriff’s Office and the citizens on Camano Island.” Vaughn said.
As liaison, Vaughn is a key figure with the Citizen Patrol. He runs requests through the chain of command so the group can get what it needs.
In 2018, the Citizen Patrol volunteered more than 3,000 hours of service to the community, logging roughly 25,000 miles running county mail back and fourth from Camano to Whidbey, and doing vacation checks and patrols on Camano Island, Vaughn said.
When the new Camano Administrative building opens, a Citizen Patrol volunteer will staff the new office and process paperwork there, Barnard said.
Eyes on the neighborhoods
Twice a week, Citizen Patrol volunteers take to the rural roads of Camano in an official green car with gold letters, usually for about four hours. Usually all is well. But if they see anything suspicious, they aren’t qualified to get involved. They report it and observe from a safe distance until a deputy arrives.
One Wednesday, Ram Prasad, Jerry Betts and Glenn Morse were preparing for a night ride. Before setting out, they did a routine check of the Citizen Patrol car, logged into the mileage book and then called ICOM — Island County’s communications center — to report, “Car 740 is departing on evening patrol.”
Behind the wheel, Morse kept his eyes on the road while Prasad and Betts scanned the environment for anything unusual.
“We are the eyes and ears, that’s what we are,” Prasad said.
“Old eyes and ears,” Betts added. They all laughed.
Some of the volunteers are retired law enforcement officers who want to continue serving.
Morse, for example, started as a law enforcement officer in Alaska and came to Washington in 1989, working most of his career in healthcare security in places like Virginia Mason. After he retired, he wanted something to do, so he joined Citizen Patrol.
“Now I’m doing everything I’d been doing before.”
As a Citizen Patrol driver, Morse took a random route around Camano Island roads, cruising through Camano Transfer Station, Camano Island State Park, Cama Beach State Park, Utsalady School, Camano Center, Terry’s Corner, St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church, Camano Chapel and neighborhoods everywhere on the island.
“Law enforcement can’t be everywhere all the time,” Morse said. “Just being visible out there is a deterrent that helps prevent crime.”
Sometimes Citizen Patrol finds trouble. Once they helped save someone in distress on a boat during high winds and high waves.
“We made a call and dispatch sent help to save him,” Prasad said.
On another occasion, four people were stuck in the middle of a 400-foot tram ride from the beach to a home on a bluff near Cama Beach. Citizen Patrol called for help. Aid cars, police and fire responded and Prasad had his first experience directing traffic, which he did for four hours.
“You get training but when it comes to a real-life situation, you handle it when it comes,” he said.
A lot of people don’t know about the free vacation check service, Betts said. “We make sure the doors and windows are locked. If there are any downed trees, we notify someone on their behalf. We probably check 40 houses per week in the winter and 10 in the summer.”
“Another thing we look for is pedestrians walking without reflective vests,” Morse said. A stash of safety vests is ready in the patrol car to offer Camano Island walkers and joggers, paid for by CLESF.
This nonprofit foundation raises money to support the Island County Sheriff’s Camano Precinct and rangers at Camano’s two state parks. Because it’s a 501(c)3, donations are tax deductible.
CLESF started in 2011 by several Citizen Patrol members, including Earl and Maureen Barnard, Liz Tarbet and Fran VanHavermaet. They saw that the Camano precinct had unfunded needs that could be met by a nonprofit organization.
The Barnards got the idea from a similar group that raises money for Edmonds firefighters who can’t fundraise for themselves.
With support from former Sheriff Mark Brown, CLESF became a nonprofit organization that can take donations and hold fundraisers, Earl Barnard said
CLESF has since raised money and purchased a bulletproof vest, a gun safe, portable police radios for the deputies and park rangers, a breathalyzer and a metal detector.
It funds services for residents, like self-defense and gun safety classes, the safety vest program and a Shop with a Cop program.
Bringing it around full circle, CLESF helps fund Citizen Patrol expenses, too: purchasing uniforms and flashlights for the volunteers plus a warning light and the GPS unit for the patrol car.
Because of these two organizations, Camano Island Sheriff’s precinct has a longer reach and can offer its citizens more services.
Staff reporter Peggy Wendel: email@example.com or 360-416-2189.