On a recent afternoon, Mark Anderson and Nelson Kramer stopped at the scene of an accident on Sandy Springs Circle, where two cars had collided across the street from the Brooklyn Café. They made sure everyone was OK and stopped traffic to allow the drivers to pull into the parking lot and safely figure things out.

Anderson and Kramer weren’t just good Samaritans. They are volunteers with the Sandy Springs Police Department Citizens on Patrol program, and helping in such situations is part of their work.

SSPD Citizens on Patrol volunteer Nelson Kramer places a warning on the window of a disabled parking violator while fellow volunteer Mark Anderson waits close by in the COPs vehicle. (Photo James Beaman)

As the name suggests, Citizens on Patrol (COPs) is a program where volunteer citizens can help patrol the streets. They drive cars outfitted with “Citizen Patrol” decals and orange lights, and wear a specially designed uniform to differentiate them from officers. The COPs are unarmed, cannot make arrests and are not sworn officers.

To become a patrol member, volunteers must complete the 13-week Citizens Police Academy and an additional 12-week course.

The Sandy Springs Police Department started its Citizens on Patrol program five years ago in 2011. The Sandy Springs COPs program, which has about 50 volunteers, is one of many programs around the country. The Dunwoody Police Department is in the process of starting its own COPs program.

Anderson said he was a crew chief on a Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter in the Vietnam War.

“I planned on being a New York State Trooper when I got back from Vietnam, but my wife said she didn’t want to wait for me to come home so long anymore,” said Anderson.

After retiring from IBM after 37 years, Anderson now owns a photography shop in Sandy Springs and spends about 100 hours per month working with the COPs.

Kramer, a frequent partner with Anderson, retired after more than 40 years in commercial real estate and now spends much of his time with the COPs.

“I found I really enjoyed this, and I’ve retired, and now I sort of do this full time,” said Kramer. “I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but I put in about 200 hours a month.”

“We put in a lot of hours, Mark and I do,” said Kramer. “The department asks folks to put in eight hours a month.”

According to Kramer, the SSPD COPs contribute about 16,000 volunteer hours per year to the department.

Over the course of about four hours during a recent patrol, Anderson and Kramer made two residential checks, gave out one handicapped-parking violation warning and helped at four vehicular accidents. The variety of the work is one aspect of COPs that Kramer and Anderson find enjoyable.

“We might be going along with absolutely nothing going on,” said Kramer. “All of a sudden there was a single-vehicle accident over on Riverside Drive that took down a telephone pole and wires. We went out there and were a part of a team that closed down Riverside Drive for a couple hours.”

“I enjoy being out here,” said Anderson. “I enjoy the interactions with the officers, and I enjoy just being able to be of assistance to the people who put their lives on the line for everybody else.”

“Another real pleasure of the program is the people in the program,” said Kramer. “We go out for a number of hours on patrol and we have a chance to talk and catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives. It’s very social.”

Regardless of the enjoyment Anderson and Kramer get out of volunteering in the COPs program, Kramer says they are an asset to the police department.

“One of the reasons that departments are finding this extremely valuable, we free up officers on a regular basis to do higher priority things,” said Kramer. “We save a lot of officers’ time. For instance, if there’s a storm and trees go down and wires go down, we’ll go and block one or both ends sometimes for hours until the tree can be removed or power lines can be put back up. And that frees an officer to go deal with higher priority calls.”

Capt. Mike Lindstrom, spokesperson for the SSPD, said that the program is valuable in a time of controversy over police shootings.

“With all that’s going on in current events, there’s a need for a spokesperson to tell the people that the police aren’t all bad,” said Lindstrom. “Aside from the work that they do, it’s a form of relationship-building with the community.”

For more information on the Citizens on Patrol program, its goals and how to get involved, visit sandyspringsga.org/public-safety.

–James Beaman