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ALMOST 300 STRONG

Volunteers augment Manteca police, fire services

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ALMOST 300 STRONG

SHARP volunteer Lee Maldonado assisted with traffic control in 2009 during a fire on Walnut Avenue.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED August 6, 2012 1:16 a.m.

Upwards of 300 volunteers are helping Manteca police and fire be more efficient as well as making it possible to offer “quality of life” services that other municipalities have had to let go to the wayside due to budget cutbacks.

“They’re a big help,” Police Chief Nick Obligacion said of his department’s corps of volunteers that include Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP), reserve officers, Police Explorers, and chaplains.

“They’re a god send,” added Fire Chief Kirk Waters of the Seniors Aiding Fire Effort, reserve firefighters, and the Community Emergency Response Team.

Reserves are officers who have met all the state mandates for Peace Officer Training Standards. Without them the city would be unable to provide a high profile at events such as the weekly Tuesday farmers market at Library Park. They also provide back up support for the patrol division and do so without compensation.

The largest contingent of volunteers in the police department - and arguably the highest profile - is those 50 and older that comprise the SHARP unit.

The SHARP volunteers essentially do five key functions:

• They take over duties that must be performed such as traffic control at accidents and major events which in turn frees up police officers.

• They handle essential duties that free up non-sworn police personnel for other pressing needs. Those duties include delivering court papers, filing, graffiti abatement, illegal sign removal from telephone poles, and other such tasks.

• They enhance crime prevention and safety by patrolling neighborhoods, shopping centers, and doing vacation checks to serve as extra eyes for the department. They also help keep school zones safe and do vacation checks for those who request it

• They handle much of the department’s community outreach by manning information booths at community events.

• They also will take on non-police tasks when asked that essentially improve the quality of life in Manteca.

Obligacion noted that many of the tasks the SHARP do such as graffiti eradication could eventually be handled by police but definitely not in as a timely manner as the SHARP crews do.

“I rarely see graffiti in place around Manteca for more than a few days,” Obligacion said. “They do a great job at graffiti removal.”

The department hasn’t hesitated to use SHRAP volunteers to the fullest. There are several who have volunteered to respond regardless of the time whether in the wee hours of the morning or mid-day to traffic accidents and major incidents to help direct traffic and secure crime scenes. In doing so, they free up officers for other duties.

The Explorers are more of a learning opportunity for those wishing to explore the possibility of a career in police services but the chief notes they still volunteer helping with security and such at major events like the street fairs.

The fire department’s SAFE unit operates much like the SHARP making firefighters more effective both in front-line service and community outreach.

If firefighters are pulled away from training, a SAFE volunteer will keep tabs of the equipment instead of firefighters having to waste precious response time packing it up and securing it. They also step in to continue school fire safety presentations when firefighters are called away due to an emergency  call.

The SAFE unit also performed fireworks booth inspections earlier this summer plus follow-up inspections on around 1,000 weed abatement citations that firefighter crews  issued. They also recheck fire safety  inspections where paid personnel previously noted deficiencies.

“They go back to make sure items have been taken care of,” Water said. “Without them, we’d be hard pressed to keep up due to staffing.”

The fire department also has an Explorers program for those interested in fire service careers. They also make use of reserves.

The Community Emergency Response Team - citizens trained to augment fire services when they are overtaxed during major events such as floods, earthquakes or train derailments - are also assigned to the fire department.

In the past they have done welfare checks during heat waves as well as helped search for missing children.

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