The Shawnee Police Department graduated its first Sentinel Academy Thursday and seven residents, who will wear red uniform shirts with police department patches, will volunteer as part of the police assistance program.

Local residents will begin to see a city vehicle roaming the streets with the bold name “Sentinels” across the sides. Chris Thomas, administrator of support services at SPD and Sentinel coordinator, said Sentinel volunteers will work in pairs to assist police officers in non-criminal activities.

For example, he said, Sentinels can assist with directing traffic at accidents, which allows police officers to handle more urgent calls. 

Sentinels will also be able to take minor reports, Thomas said, and can assist the record clerks at the station, deliver important papers for city officials, assist with parades and help with community programs such as neighborhood watch groups.


The Shawnee Police Department graduated its first Sentinel Academy Thursday and seven residents, who will wear red uniform shirts with police department patches, will volunteer as part of the police assistance program.
Local residents will begin to see a city vehicle roaming the streets with the bold name “Sentinels” across the sides. Chris Thomas, administrator of support services at SPD and Sentinel coordinator, said Sentinel volunteers will work in pairs to assist police officers in non-criminal activities.
For example, he said, Sentinels can assist with directing traffic at accidents, which allows police officers to handle more urgent calls. 
Sentinels will also be able to take minor reports, Thomas said, and can assist the record clerks at the station, deliver important papers for city officials, assist with parades and help with community programs such as neighborhood watch groups.
Sentinels will not carry firearms, Thomas said, and they will not be conducting traffic stops.
“The goal is not to put these volunteers in harms way, but to give them an avenue for community service helping fellow citizens,” Thomas said, adding the logo on their shirts reads, “Citizens in service to the community.”
 The first graduating class of Sentinels are: Karen Meshew, Billy Dowdy, Linda Painter, Duane Bergeron, Leroy Gunter, Lewis Snake and Kay Snake.
Thomas said the position of Sentinels is not to take jobs away from potential officer slots on the department. With economic restraints, Thomas said some help is needed and Sentinel volunteers can hopefully fill part of that gap.
“Chief Frantz is thinking outside of the box for innovative ways of providing much needed services for our citizens,” Thomas said. “Shawnee is growing and we still need more officers but we also have capable citizens wanting to be a part of the solution.”
Thomas said Sentinels come from all backgrounds, from a construction work to a retired Air Force member and housewives. The Sentinels are required to work a minimum of four hours a week or 16 hours a month. 
Sentinel Lewis Snake said many of them will likely put in more hours simply because they are excited about assisting the police officers and the residents of Shawnee.
“These officers risk their lives for us 24 hours a day,” Snake said. “The Sentinels can give back to the officers and the community.”
Applicants for the Sentinel program were taken from graduating classes of the Shawnee Police Department’s Citizen Police Academies, which is a requirement, Thomas said, before going through the training process. Class attendees were introduced to a number of topics including report writing, traffic control, community relations and patrol procedures.
Thomas said the first Sentinel program originated in Joplin, Mo. in the late 1980s by then Chief Michael Whiteman, who brought the program to the Lawton Police Department in 1992. Since then, Sentinels in Lawton have donated more than 150,000 hours to that community. That volunteer time, based on an average pay of $13 an hour for full-time employees, is like having $1.94 million donated to the Lawton community in worker hours over the past 17 years, Thomas said.
Former Shawnee Police Chief Bill Mathis, who came to Shawnee from Lawton in 2006, brought the concept of the Sentinel program with him. Thomas said Frantz saw the potential in the program and “kept the ball rolling.”
“I’m looking forward to their assistance and expanding the program,” the chief said.
The Shawnee Police Department received a $2,400 Volunteers in Police Services grant about a year ago to help fund the red uniform shirts as well as training materials, which were purchased locally.
Thomas said the Sentinels will be a tremendous asset to Shawnee.
“When you see the red shirts out there being extra eyes and ears for our department, such as helping people change a flat tire, or moving garbage out of the roadway, know that they are volunteers,” Thomas said. “Give them a wave and thank them. Thank our officers too for being open to new ideas that help make our community great.”
For more information about joining the Sentinel program, call Thomas at 878-1638.  
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Kim Morava may be reached at 214-3962.