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Volunteers free up police
Chief credits them with making a big difference
Manteca Police Chief Dave Bricker, left, swears in Safdar Ali who serves as one of the 96 Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police volunteers. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Police Chief Dave Bricker knows what Manteca would be like without the dedicated volunteers who help the department protect lives and property.

•Graffiti abatement would be virtually non-existent except for what city crews could get to in municipal parks.

•Abandoned vehicles wouldn’t be abated.

•Critical patrol manpower would be tied up directing traffic around accidents or downed power lines.

•Additional patrols of school zones in a bid to increase student safety walking to and from school wouldn’t exist.

•Vacation home checks wouldn’t happen.

•Wait time for the public trying to contact police department office staff would increase significantly as they’d no longer be help with the ton of behind-the-scenes paperwork.

•Department outreach efforts to educate the public how to reduce the chances of being a crime victim would drop off significantly.

•Illegal garage sale signs and other signs would stay up on power poles, traffic signal poles and trees in the city right-of-way.

•False alarm bills would take longer to get out.

•Aggressive enforcement of illegal parking in fire zones and handicapped zones would drop off.

•The department would lack the ability to mobilize groups of 30 plus people at a minute’s notice to help canvas the city for missing children.

•The Tidewater Bike Path would not be patrolled.

•Additional eyes would not be driving through neighborhoods to look out for suspicious activity.

•Police officers would be tied up delivering court documents.

And that’s just for starters.

“They (the volunteers) allow our officers to concentrate on mission critical tasks such as responding to crime,” Bricker said.

The police chief dismissed the claims of some critics that the volunteers are taking jobs away from police officers.

That, Bricker, said, is simply not the case.

“A lot of the things the volunteers are doing simply wouldn’t get done,” the police chief said.”They are quality of life and crime prevention tasks as well as outreach functions that simply wouldn’t be done.”

That is even more the case with the economic downturn and subsequent 28 percent reduction in sworn officers.

Many of the volunteers assist the department support staff by doing low-priority tasks that allows them to concentrate on more pressing needs.

The department has 96 volunteers with the Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) who devote an average of 16 hours a month volunteering. The only expense the city incurs is the cost of their uniforms and gas for SHARP vehicles that have all been donated to the city.

The department can also call on 30 members of the Citizens Emergency Response Team on a minute’s notice to help assemble search crews for missing children as has happened several times in the past. There is also a Police Explorers unit.

“We have more volunteers than we do regular staff,” Bricker said of the 59 patrol officers and the repertoire of support staff that includes police clerks, dispatchers, and community service officers.

All three volunteer groups help with traffic control at major incidents as well as assist in staging parades and other events.

Bricker noted recently a number of SHARP volunteers were called out in the middle of the night to provide traffic control for a major accident that downed power lines. It meant the department didn’t tie up all available officers working one incident.

The SHARP volunteers also help take supplies to the Give Every Child a Chance after school programs.

“It is important that tasks like that be done,” Bricker said. “If kids are involved in a healthy diversion they won’t be out on the streets or at home getting into trouble,” the chief said.

He pointed to SHARP volunteers like Don Reed who will take the time after he is through with SHARP neighborhood patrol duties to stop by various senior living complexes. He asks the staff who hasn’t had family visitors that week and then spends a while talking to those people. The SHARP group also oversees the RUOK automatic telephone system that keeps tabs on shut-ins. If there is no response to daily calls, the SHARP volunteers drive by and knock on doors to see if people are OK.

“They (the volunteers) are ambassadors for the police department,” Bricker said.