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Volunteer unit on ice due to pandemic; city leaders working toward their return
This 2008 file photo shows SHARP volunteer Hank Loya getting ready to paint over graffiti on the Louise avenue overpass. Such invaluable assistance has been lost to the City of Manteca during the pandemic.

Sometimes you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

That was the message elected officials delivered Tuesday in explaining what has gone wrong with Manteca’s graffiti abatement.

“You go back a year and a half and graffiti wasn’t an issue in the community,” noted Councilman Gary Singh said.

The big change: The pandemic sidelined the highly effective Seniors Helping Area Residents & Police volunteers.

The volunteer unit not only removed graffiti from city signs, poles, and other property when they came across it but when they saw graffiti on private property they — as Councilman Charlie Halford described it — “short circuited” the bureaucratic process.

“They’d knock on a door and ask for permission to paint over graffiti,” Halford said of the vandalism that would occur to fences and such.

Almost all of the time the property owners would say “yes” and the graffiti would be gone.

The city’s rules require property owners be issued a 10-day notice to remove the graffiti and if not the public works department take follow up steps to remove it and the property owner be cited for not removing it.

Halford, a former police chief, knows all too well what happens when graffiti lingers.

“Graffiti breeds more graffiti,” Halford said.

Deputy City Manager Toni Lundgren, who has been put in charge of the multiple department effort to tackle graffiti and trash issues around town, agreed that the key component in fighting graffiti is the SHARP unit.

Lundgren said the city will work with the volunteer unit to bring them back as quickly as possible while keeping the volunteers safe.

While the bulk of the volunteers are 50 years or older, the SHARP eligibility age was dropped down to 40 several years ago. Halford noted that most have likely gotten their COVID-19 shots.

“A lot of them are chomping at the bit to get back,” Halford said.

The absence of SHARP compounded with the sheriff’s alternative work detail for offenders being on ice due to the pandemic although they have started going out again, as well as staffing issues for Caltrans due to COVID-19 have all contributed to the prevalence of lingering graffiti.

Lundgren noted the city is now able to work closer with Caltrans now that the pandemic is easing.

After Lundgren shared city initiatives aimed at tackling graffiti  such as volunteer municipal worker clean-up efforts in addition to working toward bringing SHARP volunteers back, Mayor Ben Cantu made it clear that was not enough.

“I notice graffiti is getting worse and worse,” Cantu said.  “The problem (is we have) no boots on the ground.  If we need to hire a couple of guys and give them a can of paint, we need to do that.”

Cantu added the cost wouldn’t bankrupt the city.

“I don’t care if it costs money,” the mayor said.

Halford disagreed alluding to the fact “the city didn’t have printing presses” to produce money adding the SHARP and other efforts sidelined due to the pandemic have proven to be effective in the past.

Cantu also added that having 30 to 50 city workers volunteer once a month on a Thursday during their noon hour to tackle problematic spots in town for litter and graffiti wasn’t the answer. He added that “burning out” city employees doing graffiti removal and such even on their own time was an effective answer.

Singh took exception to criticism of staff stepping up on their own time to help address blight issues in Manteca.

The councilman said it helps staff “take ownership” of the problem.

Singh elaborated on Wednesday.

Singh noted one of the biggest complaints council members receive is that many municipal workers don’t live in Manteca and essentially put in their eight hour day in an office setting. Singh said the monthly volunteer efforts by municipal staff “helps invest them” in the city.

Lundgren added that “it is not just about graffiti.”

She added when city workers volunteer for such details they also are looking for other things that can be done to improve the city.

Councilman Dave Breitenbucher, along with Halford and Singh, acknowledged the numerous other things SHARP volunteers do to improve the quality of life in Manteca as well as to free up patrol officers by tackling fairly routine matters.


About the SHARP unit

The volunteer unit started 29 years ago when Willie Weatherford was police chief. It 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.

While Manteca residents have seen SHARP volunteers manning barricades along parade routes, working traffic control when requested by officers, taking illegal signs down, performing requested vacation checks for homeowners on vacation or simply patrolling neighborhoods or streets near schools to keep an eye on things and to mark vehicles that may have been parked too long, there are a lot of behind the scenes things they do as well.

The non-public help they perform ranges from helping with filing to delivering documents and such to the court, district attorney’s office, or other city departments. All of their effort helps police personnel across the board be more efficient and frees them up for higher priority concerns.

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.

None of that has occurred due to the pandemic as city management has taken the position they cannot ask volunteers to “work” until such time COVID-19 protocols allow for the return of the general public to city hall.

Information on how to become a SHARP volunteer appears on the city’s website on the Manteca Police page.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email