City of Flint residents looking for answers about their stolen purse or wallet, home break-in, lawn or vehicle damage might get a telephone call from Tracy Austin, a Flint Blue Badge volunteer, who works on the second floor of the Flint Police Department several days per week. There, she assists Sergeant Tanya Meeks, Blue Badge Volunteer Corps Coordinator. “Today, I have to call 40 residents who filed a complaint or reported a crime,” says Tracy, who wears a polo-style shirt with the Blue Badge shield embroidered on it.
Tracy, who was a criminal justice student at Mott Community College three years ago, received training to become a Blue Badge volunteer. “I’m a resident of the City, and with the shortage of police officers, I wanted to help in any way I could. This kind of volunteering helps free up officers who spend so much time making or returning telephone calls to residents about the status of their cases.”
“Talking to residents about crime prevention measures and seeing their expressions of understanding means none of our efforts are in vain.”
Sergeant Tanya Meeks
Officer Meeks could use a hundred more volunteers like Tracy. “She is my right-hand volunteer and knows how to collaborate with officers and departments, and she takes initiative,” says Meeks. In addition, Tracy is an exceptional listener. “I let people vent,” she says. “Then, I help them understand where their case is and answer any questions or concerns.” She might give verbal support, aid them in the steps to obtain a PPO (Personal Protection Order) or direct them to another division within the police department.
Without volunteers like Tracy, Sergeant Meeks and other Flint City Police Officers would have to squander their days sitting at a desk making calls. Utilizing Blue Badge volunteers means officers are working cases in the field, gathering evidence and solving crimes. Another Blue Badge volunteer, Peggy Stribling, who offers 11 hours per week, answers the phone in the Detective Bureau Department. “I’m a retired GM customer service employee who wanted to get out of the house,” Peggy laughs. “I answer phones, do paperwork, file cases, and I love all of it.” Recently, her responsibility increased when she was asked to handle the online citizen surveys found on the police department’s website page.
Sergeant Meeks gives credit to Flint City Police Chief James Tolbert’s vision to answer every resident who files a complaint. “It was important to him that we reach out to every resident,” says Meeks. This goal is actually being reached and working successfully because of the Blue Badge volunteers. “Many residents I talk to are surprised to be getting a return telephone call from the police department,” says Tracy.
Meeks oversees all coordination aspects of the volunteers, who are required to pass a background check and can choose to serve in any of these areas: blight and clean-up projects, citizen radio patrol, neighborhood block clubs, crime watch groups (there are 40-50 active groups), and a chaplain’s program. Although the chaplain’s unit has always existed, Meeks says it’s being remodeled. “We’re giving our clergy volunteers a bigger responsibility and broadening their role at the crime scene, which means they might talk with and pray with a family or an officer in need, and counsel them as their case develops.”
Other Blue Badge volunteers serving in the citizen patrol branch typically work 6-11pm on weekends. They are supplied with a magnetic emblem and amber light for their car, and a modified police radio for checking in and out at their assigned base station. “The citizen’s patrol volunteers are out on the road helping police officers stay on top of things,” says Meeks.
All police volunteering activities were formerly coordinated out of mini-stations spread throughout the City, but now those locations are known as service stations. The service stations operate from 10am to 4pm, but could be open until 10pm if there were more volunteers. The newest service station is located at the Dort Mall. Other active service stations are located at Kettering University, Northside (4535 MLK), Southside (3410 Fenton Road) and Kearsley Park. The Hurley service center is relocating, and another service center at Hallwood Plaza (4912 Clio Road) is expected to launch soon.
Meeks, who 17 years earlier in her career thought of police work as catching and handcuffing bad guys, admits that her views have changed. “When I came on I was assigned to the King and Bishop Precinct where there were 40 officers,” she says. “Later, it dropped to ten, and then to two after more budget cuts, and now I’m it.” Without the manpower she had two decades ago, Meeks has come to value community policing efforts and Blue Badge Volunteers who truly make a difference in improving the City of Flint. “I’ve learned that interacting with the community – having a relationship with the citizens and the citizens having a relationship with the police department – makes sense,” she says. “Talking to residents about crime prevention measures and seeing their expressions of understanding means none of our efforts are in vain.”
In addition, Meeks works with and trains leaders from Flint Neighborhoods United, a coalition of all Flint crime watch groups who meet monthly to network with one another, discuss issues in a forum style, gather resources and gain knowledge.
Meeks believes in and advocates crime prevention. She has a passion for teaching and educating residents to be more aware. For example, watching your garage door go all the way down when pulling out of your driveway to ensure no one slips under, or putting larger address numbers on your home so emergency personnel can identify it faster, are part of crime prevention education.
“Blue Badge volunteers are really about being able to help bring a bad situation to calmness, and hopefully to solvability,” Meeks says. “We can’t always fix everything, but it’s about helping residents to get their lives back and to move forward.”
To learn more about the Blue Badge Volunteer Corps, call Sergeant Meeks at 810.237.6926.
Photography by Mike Naddeo