The Union County sheriff is looking for a few VIPS -- Volunteers in Police Service.

The Union County sheriff is looking for a few VIPS -- Volunteers in Police Service.

The program began 10 years ago after President George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address when he laid the groundwork for the National Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program.

Finding Volunteers in Police Service is just one of the goals of Union County Sheriff Jamie Patton's Citizen Academy.

Twelve citizens graduated from the first Citizen Academy last month.

Patton said he eventually would like to find VIPS, but the immediate goal of the Sheriff's Citizen Academy is to educate members of the community about the operations and statutory requirements of his office.

"I was surprised to find out how many people are not aware of what their sheriff's office does," Patton said. "There is much more to their duties than writing tickets and waiting for a response call."

Patton said he heard about the citizen's academy program through other agencies and was intrigued by the success of the program.

There is a small cost to run the program.

"We received a grant through Operation Roundup-URE," he said.

Through the academy program, members of the Sheriff's Office staff do more than educate -- they try to build strong relationships with those they serve and protect, Patton said. The academy offers the opportunity for participants to gain a better understanding of the day-to- day responsibilities of the Sheriff's Office.

Students learn about multiple topics, including the history and mission of the sheriff's office; the 911 communications center and the role of dispatchers; law enforcement liability; building searches; domestic violence; investigative techniques; the special response team, the sheriff's canine team; drugs in the community; crime scene investigation; interviews and interrogations; photography and fingerprinting; DNA analysis;identity theft; prisoner responsibilities; court security; the sex offender registry; and concealed-carry permits.

Participants also have a chance to tour the Tri County Regional Jail and go on a ride-along with a deputy.

The first academy started Sept. 10, and ended with graduation on Nov. 26.

Patton hopes more education and stronger relationships mean a safer environment.

About 26 people signed up for the first academy but only 12 were chosen for the first class.

"We limited the size because of our venue," Patton said. "We held the classes in our library at the sheriff's office. Plus, we wanted to start out easy with the number of applications."

There is no cost to the citizen participating.

The sheriff's office hopes to continue to offer two academy programs each year.

"We have several more applications because of the success of this one," he said. "Our dates have not been set yet, but will be starting in March of 2013."

Patton said he has a long-term goal in mind for the academy.

"I hope we have some volunteers to come from each class. We are looking at starting a volunteer group," he said.

For now, the original mission has been completed.

"I truly believe we accomplished our goals and objectives, based on the feedback we've received from the class graduates," Patton said. "I can't say enough about the positive relationships our staff have formed with everyone -- it's priceless."