By Ed Brock

Prowling the streets of Morrow in search of lawbreakers has just gotten a little easier for the city's Citizens Corps volunteers like Jack Kirksey.

Now they have a car.

"Although it's distinguishable from a police car, the bad guys know it's something official," said Kirksey, a member of Morrow's Volunteers In Police Service and Community Emergency Report Team.

VIPS and CERT are part of the Citizens Corps, a program that is part of the Department of Homeland Security, Morrow Police Chief Charlie Sewell said.

"The car will be used by both CERT members and VIPS members," Sewell said.

The car is a retired police cruiser that is in good condition but is no longer considered safe for high-speed pursuits or other more strenuous tasks. It has been stripped of its old decals, the blue lights have been replaced with yellow lights and the "cage" that separated the backseat from the front so prisoners could be transported safely has been removed.

Kirksey said he did a lot of the work.

"It took about a week and a half to get it done but it worked out well," Kirksey said.

Sewell said grants from Wal-Mart paid for the application of the new decals on the car, so the vehicle cost the city nothing.

VIPS and CERT members will use the car to patrol neighborhoods, checking up on empty houses where the residents are on vacation or the house is unoccupied and also looking for other crimes. They will be unarmed but will have a radio to report crimes in progress along with flashlights and other equipment.

Recently one patrol found an empty house that had been burglarized and reported that, Sewell said.

"We expect a lot of interaction between the volunteers and the public," Sewell said. "They will be ambassadors for the city of Morrow."

The volunteers had performed patrols previously in an unmarked car, but Sewell said they wanted a vehicle that provided more visibility.

In some cases the unmarked car might be better, VIPS and CERT member Cee Viola said, such as when the volunteers want to look out for trouble in the parking lots of Southlake Mall and the AMC Theater. But she said the new car would serve to prevent crime when she goes out in it with her partners, John Williams and Jack Stroud.

"People see it and say let's move on to somewhere else," Viola said.

Viola lives in the city and has been volunteering at the police department for two and a half years. Kirksey now lives in Jonesboro but lived in Morrow for 31 years. Both are retired.

"I just volunteer because I like the city and the people who run it," Kirksey said.

Viola gave similar reasons for volunteering.

"I just like helping people, and by doing what I do I think I do help people and it makes me feel good," Viola said.

Members of the CERT team also help with traffic control at major events like this past Saturday's "Summerfest on the Green," Sewell said. The programs are administered under the city's Citizens Corps Council that includes Sewell, Fire Chief David Wall and City Manager John Lampl.