Santa Barbara’s Volunteers in Policing program has developed interesting tangents based on its volunteers’ skills, including a retired attorney who became a parking hearing officer and a car enthusiast who works with young people in the DRAGG (Drag Racing Against Gangs & Graffiti) program. Not all the 11 participants in the police department program’s first year are necessarily retired professionals either. Several hold down a nine-to-five, but all were attracted by the chance to be the community’s extra eyes and ears, on the lookout for suspicious activities.
“Just our presence is big,” said Howie Giles, director for the volunteer service. “It’s a deterrence.” Originally from Cardiff, Wales, Giles is a retired UCSB professor with a long-standing interest in the social psychology of language and communication. Since 1994, he’s advanced his way from the Citizens Police Academy to becoming a member of the crisis negotiation team and a reserve lieutenant. “We’ve made a modest contribution downtown,” he said demurely of the volunteers, who, among other tallies, warned 416 skateboarders and 522 smokers of the laws regulating both in the city, and fielded 477 assists.
As their work expanded, they put in a total of 2,755 hours in their gray uniforms, keeping a friendly, knowledgeable post in the glass-barricaded police station lobby; manning closures during the Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow; reviewing video tapes for detectives to develop leads; helping Animal Control officers; and writing grants, among many other varied duties.
The Volunteers in Policing program is the brainchild of Police Chief Lori Luhnow, who observed the same successful program at her previous post in San Diego. SBPD “has a green light to find 10 more people of the same caliber as we have already,” said Giles, “all very accomplished people who are very committed.” The chief hopes the program will grow to 50 people who can volunteer 16 hours per month. “It’s for people who enjoy interacting with other people,” said Sgt. Brian Jensen, who works with the volunteers. “It can change your outlook on things that people see everyday.” To apply, contact Howie Giles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This story was corrected on August 23, 2018, to state it is 16 hours per month that VIPs are asked for, not 20 hours per week.