Manteca Police Chief Jodie Estarziau knows exactly what the community would be like without the 70 men and women who don the light blue shirts of the Seniors Helping Area Residents & Police.
Pilfered shopping carts would linger longer around town as would graffiti and countless illegal signs such as those promoting yard sales nailed and taped to poles.
The department would have to tie up sworn officers or community service officers to help secure major accident and crime scenes prompting a backup in response to lower priority calls.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“They are an important part of the department,” Estarziau noted.
The SHARP volunteers not only free up staff by helping with menial tasks in the office as well as assisting officers in the field but they have also allowed Manteca to stay on top of a wide array of quality of life issues ranging from abandoned vehicles to noting where graffiti has popped up for either a court ordered work crew to clean up on Saturdays or for a SHARP volunteer to paint over.
Estarziau said the volunteer unit started 27 years ago when Willie Weatherford was police chief is one of the most active and effective in the state. Originally the ranks were open to only those 50 years and older. The threshold has been lowered to 40. And while some thought was given to renaming the group VIPS — Volunteers in Police Service as is the case with the Ripon Police Department volunteers — the decision was made to stick with the SHARP moniker due to its high level of recognition and the positive history the unit has built.
The SHARP unit allows the city to enforce quality of life issues such as abandoned shopping carts much more robustly and timely than they would be able to do if they relied on available staff that has other duties that often are a higher priority.
The volunteers enforce the city ordinance by noting the locations of shopping carts and contacting 31 different stores. In most cases stores retrieve the carts in the allotted time. If not they are picked up by the city and taken to the public works yard. In situations that require the immediate removal of the cart for various reasons, the SHARP unit handles that as well.
Sometimes the wayward carts and graffiti are noted by SHARP volunteers who will drive the streets of neighborhoods, commercial areas, and drive by schools on the weekends to look for anything that is out of place. If it is something that requires the attention of an officer, they contact dispatch.
“They are invaluable as extra eyes on the streets,” the police chief said.
Last year those extra eyes helped Manteca Police remove 162 abandoned, inoperable or stolen vehicles left on public streets. They also conduct vacation checks of homes as requested by residents who are on vacation.
Arguably one of the biggest things they do to help keep Manteca safe is through deployment of the unit’s rapid response team. They are volunteers who within a few minutes notice often in the wee hours of the morning will respond to patrol’s request to help secure scenes of major incidents such as fatal traffic accidents that require a prolonged on-site investigation.
In doing so they either help free up an officer to work on the investigation or allow them to respond to other calls. The impact on the level of service Manteca Police are able to provide is significant especially at night when staffing is often at its lowest level.
In 2018 SHARP volunteers clocked 10,390 hours of service for the community.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com