When Bruce Greiner retired from his career in the military and then as an aerospace engineer, he saw his newfound freedom as the right time to contribute to his Denver community. This led to him joining the Denver Police Department’s volunteer policing program in 2012, and he has remained dedicated to the program ever since. Bruce serves as a volunteer coordinator for the department’s COP Shops, or Community Oriented Policing Shops, which support the police by assisting the public with issues that don’t necessarily need an officer present, such as taking general police reports and providing information to the community. In addition to the COP Shops, Bruce volunteers by serving at community events, attending neighborhood organization meetings to offer help, implementing various projects to help improve community safety, and much more.
Not content with just his role with the police department, Bruce also volunteers for the Denver Parks and Recreation Department, patrolling parks in order to provide information to visitors, and with the Office of Emergency Management as a member of the Civilian Emergency Response Team, training in emergency response measures should a disaster ever hit the Denver community.
“If you’re involved, you’re going to make the community better just by being involved,” Bruce said. “It’s just a given that at some point in your life, you should be giving back to your community.”
Describe your volunteer role with Denver Police Department.
I am a member of the volunteer policing program with the Denver Police Department. There’s about 250 volunteers with the Denver Police Department and I’m just one of them but I have a kind of a unique role within the Denver Police Department. I run what is known as a Community Oriented Policing Storefront, which is something that started in the 1980s by the Department of Justice that said if you can bring the community into the policing, things will work out better, you’ll get the community involved and it will help reduce crime in your community. One of those things was the idea that you open these Community Oriented Policing Storefronts where the police can interact with the residents within the population of the community. I work in Denver Police Department’s District 1 and I run two of these storefronts, which are actually placed in relatively high crime areas, or we call them hot spots. I am a volunteer coordinator as well as being a volunteer. I manage the volunteers that work in these COP Shops.
Above the COP Shop, I also assist the Denver Police Department in general. Last month, I helped with the interview team for potentially incoming police officers that would be going to the academy. I’m called on to do these special assignments that probably not an everyday civilian would do, but I’m being called because of my ability to understand what the police do and what the expectations for the police department are.
Why did you want to volunteer in this way?
I had kind of been pushed into retirement by a corporate restructuring, so I figured I was old enough that I could retire comfortably, there was no real financial issues or anything like that, but I really needed some structure in my life and I needed to find something I could do. I spent 22 years in the military and then became an aerospace engineer for another 20 years or so. This was my time to kind of contribute to the community. I saw Denver as a place where the police were really stretched and I started looking for opportunities there to help the police. I found this volunteer policing program as well as these Community Oriented Policing Storefronts. My first volunteer job at the Denver Police Department has essentially been the COP Shop, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.
Can you describe what services the COP Shop provides?
There’s some services we can provide really routinely. The routine activity is to have a volunteer in the COP Shop, myself or someone else, who can assist the public with issues involving the police that don’t require policemen. For example, we can take accident reports, we can take general police reports of crime activities. Not a crime in progress, but a crime that happened like someone stole your bicycle off your porch, so minor crimes, those types of things. You lost your wallet, those type of activities.
We also provide what we call graffiti supplies. This is a success story. Since the inception, we’ve always had paint available that people can use to cover graffiti. If you cover graffiti quickly, then there’s no incentive for guys to put a lot of art work in or work really hard to put up graffiti, because it gets covered right away and no one gets to see it anyway. It’s kind of a no-win situation for them. With the Denver Partners Against Graffiti, we established banks, neighbors can come in if they had issues with graffiti, they could get paint, cover the graffiti up. It’s not zero, but we have significantly reduced the amount of graffiti that we have in the district.
Another thing we do is community outreach. For example, once a month we go to a library that’s near us and provide people information about their safety. This is primarily people who are immigrants, refugees, those type of people, because it’s a night where they work on their citizenship programs and the library provides services to help assist them with that. So they understand what the police do in the United States, because they come from countries where the police are an entirely different animal, that are very distrusted, are believed to be spies on the public and stuff like that. The goal here is to make them understand that if they’re in trouble or they need help, that the police are someone you can call here and you can trust the policemen to give them the services you want. This whole community outreach activity is something we’re involved in.
We get involved in issues of public safety as a public safety representative for things, like improving pedestrian traffic along major thoroughfares, bicycle path safety type of activities. We actually hand out flyers for people who have at-risk behaviors or something like that. When they say at-risk behaviors, not that they’re doing a crime, but they are doing stuff that could put them at risk of someone taking advantage of them, like leaving garage doors open, those types of things. I think 80 percent of thefts from homes here, and we have a lot of detached garages, are by people leaving their garage doors open and someone coming in and stealing their bicycles. We provide that information to remind people to stay safe and take care of their property, register their bicycles, which is an activity we can do for them, and hopefully we can put a dent in these crimes of opportunity which is what almost all the crime is in Denver, a crime of opportunity.
What effect have you seen the COP Shops have on the community?
The COP Shops are in kind of a high-crime area. This is Denver, so it’s not like we have the violence that, say, Chicago has. We’re actually a relatively safe city, but what we’ve been able to do is provide information to the community on how to protect themselves. Our number one crime is what’s called theft from motor vehicle. For example, one of those things that counts in that crime statistic is people stealing license plates off cars, which believe it or not is a rampant crime. It’s very inconvenient to the owners, it causes issues with police and it causes issues with the Department of Motor Vehicles as well because now they have stolen cars with legitimate plates on them until they can get the plates cancelled and get the information out to the police. So we, along with the police, came up with the idea that you can take security bolts and attach one of these to a license plate and significantly stop the theft of license plates in the community. Believe it or not, we probably only reached maybe three percent of the total number of vehicles that operate in the district, and it significantly slowed down the theft of license plates. That is one example and that was essentially planned by the volunteers and executed by the volunteers, and has transitioned into a primarily police-provided service now. But the COP Shops also can provide that service to the community as well.
Can you describe how you volunteer with Denver Parks and Rec Department and why you wanted to be involved?
Because I ride my bicycle a lot and walk the dogs a lot, when we walk through the park we have a uniform shirt we wear, and we provide information for people using the park, doing activities. We also discuss with people when they seem to be not sure what the rules are, you can call that violating the rules of the park, and kind of give them guidance on what they should be doing. Since we’re a courtesy patrol, we don’t really enforce it, we just talk to them about it and tell them what the rules are. Hopefully they take our advice and then when the rangers come by, the rangers don’t have to issue them a ticket or something like that. We have a major park right down the block from where we live so it’s something I can do pretty much everyday. There’s miles of bike paths that we can patrol. So any given weekend, we have 20 or 25 volunteers, including me, patrolling the parks to assist the park rangers who are very stretched, even more stretched than the police are.
Denver has an extensive park system and there is always this idea that there’s something wrong with the parks, either they’re not being policed enough or the rangers aren’t doing their job, and the rangers even admit they need help. They asked for this courtesy patrol activity to assist on that.
Can you describe how you volunteer with the Office of Emergency Management’s CERT team and why you wanted to join?
CERT stands for Civilian Emergency Response Team and what we are is a group of volunteers. We all have specialized training given by the Office of Emergency Management in communications, basic medical, incident command response, how to clear a building if there is a building collapse or an earthquake or something like that. We’re on call and there’s never been anything they’ve called out the CERT people for, it’s just that we are training in case of a worst-case disaster type of thing. In terms of impact to my volunteer activities, other than taking courses or getting refreshers on stuff, it’s very little impact, but if I was to be called up I would be in the instant command team and I would be assisting the Office of Emergency Management in remediation or recovery of people who had been impacted by the emergency.
CERT is just a natural extension. CERT is if the worst-case scenario comes to fruition in Denver. Every community should have a strong CERT team and my military training just fits within that role very well, that humanitarian response type of activity and some of my other activities, like I’m a ham radio operator so that gives me communication skills that would fit well within the CERT operation.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
I think the most rewarding part of the work is running into people who when I talk to them, don’t realize what the police department can and can’t do, in terms of being able to fix what they perceive as problems in their community. They have to take a role in fixing, or helping the police fix, whatever the issues are they are seeing. We have organizations called Registered Neighborhood Organizations, RNOs we refer to them as. They are registered with the city. They generally have multiple meetings. Denver is nothing but these neighborhood groups all across the city. They bring up issues and we can facilitate that interaction with the police department. If they have a problem, we can go to the police if it’s a police problem or a city problem and have those addressed. Hopefully we can get to a mutual understanding of what the community needs to do and what the police needs to do. When we’re successful in doing that, I think that’s what community oriented policing was designed to do and I think that’s our metric for success as a volunteer with the Denver Police Department.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
If you have an interest in the community, there’s probably a volunteer position for you somewhere that will get you excited and get you involved. When you say public safety or first responders, the last thing you would think of is a volunteer position, but here I am volunteering with the Denver Police Department in a fairly critical role that helps the community in a broad way. So if anything, it doesn’t matter what your background is, it doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s something that interests you, there’s a volunteer opportunity out there for you.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Bruce? Find local volunteer opportunities.