By Ashley Mackin | SDUN Editor
The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) is one of the lowest-staffed departments in the country, yet San Diego’s crime rate is at its lowest since 1969. This is in part possible because of the many SDPD Volunteers, who were honored at a luncheon on April 18 at the Balboa Park Club.
“We are so proud that at the San Diego police department, we have more than 700 volunteers. We believe we set the national model for volunteerism…” said SDPD Assistant Chief Shelley Zimmerman at the Volunteer Appreciation lunch.
Zimmerman said these volunteers donated over 200,000 hours in 2011, and their services help the police with minor tasks, permitting more time to respond to calls.
SDPD Lieutenant Jerry McManus said there are five main volunteer groups for a total of 750 volunteers. The bulk of the volunteers are members of the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol (RSVP), which contributes 450 volunteers. The RSVP’s responsibilities include patrolling, assisting in missing person’s searches, assisting in traffic or accident situations and performing “You’re Not Alone Checks.”
McManus said the RSVPs perform approximately 1,000 of these checks to elderly neighbors monthly. “These people that cannot get out much can interact with the RSVPs two or three times a week,” McManus said. “A few times, RSVPs found [the individuals] after a fall and they couldn’t get help or get to a phone, so they called the ambulance. They’ve saved a few lives over the years with these checks.”
Other units include the Volunteers in Policing, who intern in the lab and complete clerical tasks; Crisis Interventionists, who are trained to counsel witnesses or family members involved in a crime; Reserve Officers, who supplement patrols and act as a partner in a squad car; and Police Cadets, who are between 15 – 20 years old and have an interest in law enforcement. McManus said the police department often hires these cadets.
Ron Petrus has been volunteering as a RSVP for four years and said the decision to volunteer came from wanting to do something productive with his time. His area includes Balboa Park, which he said he has loved visiting for 40 years. “It’s a great place to be so I enjoy patrolling the park,” he said. His patrol involves driving around the park assisting visitors.
“A lot of people wonder which museums are open and where they are and I think they… feel safe in asking us for directions instead of asking a stranger,” Petrus said.
He added that the day before the Volunteer Appreciation Lunch, he found two driver’s licenses in Balboa Park and was able to turn them in for the owners to collect.
At the event, volunteers were treated to lunch, presentations and awards. Presentations included those from the K-9 units about their roles and the vice president of the San Diego Police Historical Society. The annual awards honor 28 individuals nominated by the community.
SDPD Chief David Ramirez spoke to the volunteers and thanked them for their efforts. “This is just a small token of our appreciation…. You enhance our service level for the entire community and City of San Diego,” he said. “You make us look good.”
Ramirez said the volunteers help bridge the gap between services needed and the resources to meet them, and help by completing tasks the officers don’t always have time to complete.
“I think our time that we give is the most valuable asset we can give and I know a lot of you volunteer with other organizations [as well],” Ramirez said to the volunteers, “but thank you for volunteering for the police department.”