Submitted by Lt. Bill Davis, Bossier Sheriff’s Office
Twenty years ago, a call went out from the Bossier Sheriff’s Office asking for male volunteers, at least 50 years of age, to be members of the newly-formed Sheriff’s Posse. They would get training in law enforcement tactics, receive uniforms and equipment, and ride the parish in marked patrol units, all in an effort to reduce crime by higher police presence and to ease the load of service calls by deputies. While the monetary pay would be low (they’d work for free!), the rewards for serving their communities would be priceless.
Seventy-two men answered that call, and nearly one-third of those men are still serving today. In total, hundreds of men have volunteered their time to ride on the Posse, an program that Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington played a key role in developing two decades ago.
It was an idea that was modeled after a similar program in Arizona.
Origin of the Bossier Posse
“In the spring of 1994, Sheriff Deen and I headed to Maricopa County, Arizona, to find out more about the Posse program that Sheriff Joe Arpaio had developed,” said Sheriff Whittington. “We had an idea of how we thought our program should operate, but we wanted to see first-hand a successful program and learn from it.”
Within a year, Bossier Sheriff’s Office had its own Posse program, and the man in charge of overseeing its implementation was Whittington. With six dozen volunteers for the program, keeping up with ‘who was who’ and ‘who could work where’ was a daunting task. After all, many of these were men who had already had successful careers as leaders in their own fields, and they were about to ride around in the parish in marked patrol units…working for free.
“By April 1995, we had completed our training, and our first group of Posse volunteers were formed and ready to hit the streets,” said Whittington.
But would it work?
Joe Blasé was 65 years of age and one of those original Posse members; he recalls an early conversation with Whittington.
“He (Whittington) could delegate,” said Blasé. “I was in the Posse for about two or three months, and he came to me and asked, ‘How would you like to do the scheduling for the Benton area?’ I said, ‘Wow, okay, I’ll try it.’ And I did it for 10 years.” Blasé continues to serve on the Posse today.
I’m Retired…Now What?
Harry Stern retired after 30 years in the Air Force, followed by a 17-year career with Commercial National Bank. But now what? “I figured it’s about time I did something in the community…and that’s why I joined the Posse.”
Harry, now 84, says he’s always wanted to be a policeman after he got an early taste of law enforcement work with the Air Police, but his career path in the Air Force took another route.
All those years later, it was during orientation for the first Posse training class in 1995 when Harry met Pat, another man who had military service with Strategic Air Command while in the Air Force, and the two hit it off; Harry was a retired E-8 (senior master sergeant), and Pat Dickson was a retired 0-6 (colonel) after 30 years of service. The two started riding together on the Posse 20 years ago and have been partners since.
Pat and Harry have been married to their wives for 62 and 60 years, respectively, and that level of commitment and understanding has translated into a great working relationship on the Posse. After two decades of riding together as Posse partners, there are few surprises.
“On patrol, we can get out of a car, and I know what he’s going to do, and he knows what I’m going to do,” Harry quipped. “We even finish each other’s sentences sometimes.”
Vacation House Checks
One of the jobs of the Posse is to check on homes of residents throughout the parish who’ve gone on vacation.
“We do vacation house checks to be sure their property is safe,” said Pat. “If someone is thinking of breaking in, our presence deters that. And residents are very thankful for that.”
Twenty years ago when the Posse began, Bossier Parish experienced an average of more than 100 residential burglaries a year; today, residential burglaries in the parish average less than 40. This also comes during phenomenal population growth in Bossier Parish of about 25% over the past 20 years. (2000 population shows Bossier Parish with 98,310 residents; 2010 shows 116,679; and 2014 estimates are 125,065 – U.S. Census Bureau)
Presence of Posse patrolling neighborhoods attributes to that success rate in keeping residential burglaries low. Nearly three years ago, Sheriff Whittington and Bossier City Chief of Police Shane McWilliams partnered where Posse conduct vacation house checks within Bossier City, which not only provides peace of mind for residents, it frees officers and deputies to conduct other calls.
Wayne Whatley, who was 65 when he joined the Posse in that first class 20 years ago, enjoys knowing he is keeping people safe. “If we find a door that’s open or something that doesn’t look right, then we call the regular deputy to get them to come out there and check it out,” he said. “I ride two days a week, and as long as I’m able, I’ll continue it. I like to talk and meet different people.”
Sheriff Whittington has asked the Posse to help with funeral services throughout the years, assisting family members at the service and helping the deputies escort the funeral procession to the cemetery. In the past couple of years, the sheriff expanded that service and developed a special funeral escort team with 16 trained Posse members who have been specially trained in driving techniques to work funeral details. The dedicated team fully coordinates and conducts funeral assistance and escort services from start to finish.
Mel Allen, 73 and original Posse member, is on that team, and he knows how important his job is – “You’re trying to help this family during this difficult time in their life, so you want to be professional and courteous. The people are looking for closure and respect.
“The professionalism that we’ve developed makes it a very viable unit, and it gains a lot of respect for the Sheriff’s Office, and we get many good compliments from the citizens of the parish. We’ve had people compliment us from all parts of the country; some people were here from Dallas and they told us they don’t get this type of service.”
Ethelyn Lunsford remembered seeing an ad for the Posse, and she told her husband, Earl, a Bossier deputy who had just retired, “That’s the perfect volunteer job for you.” However, it wasn’t long before Ethelyn found herself in a volunteer role in the newly-formed Ladies Auxiliary, helping out with Operation Blessing, the parish food bank program run by the Bossier Sheriff’s Office that was started in 1998. Most of the Ladies Auxiliary are wives of men serving on the Posse.
“I do it because it’s fun, it’s good fellowship, we have good people working and we’re doing a good service,” Ethelyn said. Her husband has since passed away, but Ethelyn continues to stay busy with serving others with Operation Blessing, responsible for keeping the canned goods organized and ensuring the baggers have all the supplies they need.
Dot Ward, who just celebrated her 79th birthday, also joined the Ladies Auxiliary when her husband, Gordon, started in the first Posse class; he is still serving today. Not only has she helped with Operation Blessing, but she has volunteered at Willis-Knighton Health Center in Bossier City since the hospital opened in 1996.
“I’ve been working there on Fridays in day surgery as a volunteer since it opened, and it’s a lot of fun,” Dot said excitedly. She is provided a list of patients who are having surgery that day, and she helps them while they wait, provides them a smile and words of comfort, and of course, makes lots of coffee.
“I’m supposed to work from 7 to 11, and I usually work from 6 to noon,” Dot said. She says she’ll keep helping, “as long as there is something to do and keep me busy.”
Many of the Posse work alongside the Ladies Auxiliary in Operation Blessing, including Jim Prothro, who served in submarine duty for 10 years in the Navy and completed a career in civil service at Barksdale Air Force Base. Jim, now 82, has served on the Posse since the beginning and knows the difference he is making while delivering food to those in need in the parish, especially at Christmas with the special food boxes.
“It’s unbelievable the conditions that some of these people are living under,” said Jim, also known as “The Tree Man” for clearing roadways during storms. “Unless you get out and see, you couldn’t believe it.”
A Gas Can and a Tornado
Sometimes, Posse men are in the right place at the right time. Harry Stern recalled a time when he and Pat heard a call over the radio of a man stealing a gas can from a woman’s carport. “Pat and I looked up, and we’re watching the guy…he’s right in front of us!
“We called dispatch and said, ‘We’re here looking at him.’ We followed him to the gas station, blocked him in and waited on the regular deputies,” said Harry. The man had apparently run out of gas on Highway 3 and stole a gas can from a resident.
It may not have been solving the week’s biggest crime for the Bossier Sheriff’s Office, but for Harry and Pat, it was all a part of serving the community.
However, there are those other times.
Joe Blasé was helping look for two children who had gone missing during a tornado in 1999. The tornado had picked up a mobile home and wrapped it around a tree. Deputies and Posse members found two adults who were deceased, as well as children’s clothing and toys in the rubble…but no children.
“We were looking in trees, we were looking all over…for hours,” said Joe. Nothing. No sign of the children. But the good news finally came. “Word came through that the kids were okay and they were in town with their grandmother. Praise God for that.”
Geriatrics and the Value of Life
To be on the Posse, the minimum age for men is 50; most serving on the Posse today are between the ages of 50 and 70. But for those men and women who’ve served since the origin of the Posse, they are now into their 70s, 80s and even 90s. Sure, for some, their knees might be a little weak, eyes and ears a bit strained, but don’t let their age fool you. They aren’t your typical senior crowd.
They were business owners, pilots, entrepreneurs, preachers and military heroes. Some still are. One man has made four tandem parachute jumps, starting when he was 78; his last jump was to celebrate his 90th birthday. He still serves on the Posse, and when he turns 95 in September, he might just make another jump. Two Posse members are recipients of the Air Force Cross, the second highest military award that can be given to members of the U.S. Air Force. One Posse member is an active pilot who operates his own plane. Nope, these men and women have not let age define them. It has, however, changed them.
“We grew up in the twenties, thirties and forties,” said Ethelyn Lunsford, now 89. “Compared to what people have today, we had very little…you valued what you had, you valued your families more than people do today. Sometimes people today have so much that they don’t really value what they have.”
Joe Blasé puts it another way.
“Of course, you’re dealing with old folks, ‘Geriatrics’, I think is the name of it,” Joe, a youthful 85-year-old, said jokingly. He recalled a time that made him chuckle. “Most of the men (on the Posse) are military, so they are using military jargon, like ‘Roger that.’ One of the supervisors told me later, ‘Roger is a rabbit. Don’t use that anymore.’
“Posse members come from all walks of life,” Joe mused, “and the main question asked is ‘Why are you in the Posse?’ Nine times out of ten, they’ll tell you because I want to give something back to my community.”
Posse and Ladies Auxiliary – Integral Support
Today, there are about 200 men who volunteer on the Bossier Sheriff’s Office Posse, who, in addition to conducting house checks and funeral escorts, assist deputies with traffic control at vehicle crashes, fingerprint children at community events for safe identification, distribute food for Operation Blessing and help parish residents in need. There is also a dedicated team who can be called out for immediate assistance in need of an emergency.
Ladies Auxiliary has about 30 volunteers who call and check on parish shut-ins and elderly in addition to helping at Willis-Knighton and the food pantry program, Operation Blessing.
“We couldn’t provide the level of service we have for our residents here in Bossier Parish if it weren’t for our Posse and Ladies’ Auxiliary volunteers,” said Sheriff Whittington. “I can’t thank them enough for helping to keep our parish safe and provide for the needs of our people over these past 20 years.
“If you see our Posse and Ladies Auxiliary out and about in the community, be sure to stop and say ‘hello’,” said Whittington. “You’ll probably leave a bit wiser, maybe have a smile on your face and definitely feel grateful for men and women in Bossier Parish who are committed to serving others. Here’s to the next 20 years.”