CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Mike Nichols won a seat on Charleston City Council only last year, but already he has taken on another service role.
He graduated from the Neighborhood Assistance Officer program in January, and he is patrolling city streets looking for ne'er-do-wells and others breaking the law.
Nichols is one of 19 volunteer officers in Charleston, said Lt. Shawn Williams, director of the Charleston Police Department's Community Service Division.
Although the volunteers carry no guns and do not have arrest powers, they are equipped with radios and can contact a patrol officer in short order, Williams said.
"And they can issue tickets to people that park in handicapped spots," Williams said. "And that's something we get complaints on daily."
Williams said the program is vital to public safety in the city. The visibility of the volunteers in various neighborhoods helps to deter crime, he said.
The program has four police cars, three of which were donated to the program by Chesapeake Energy, Police Chief Brent Webster said.
Webster considers the program a boon to the force.
"The Neighborhood Assistance Officers are very important because they do things that would tie up an officer," he said.
The volunteers can be used to help provide crowd control at city events, such as the Live on the Levee Concert Series and FesitvALL, he said. They also can help direct traffic during a festival or an emergency situation, he said.
They also assist with traffic accidents, Webster said. Nichols said the volunteers can arrive at the accident scene and position their vehicle behind the officer to block oncoming traffic.
"That way we can keep the officer safe while he works the accident or writes a ticket," Nichols said.
Nichols said the officers volunteer to work as they have the time, but he tries to be out when others are at their regular jobs. Nichols is a disabled former postal service employee.
"I try to be out when other NAOs are working," he said.
He decided to volunteer after he was elected to represent the 5th Ward in city council last year.