The Santa Cruz Police Department is launching a new volunteer program in conjunction with the city of Santa Cruz. The latest in a series of additions to the police force, the program intends to bring the community and the police together with the common goal of upholding public safety.
The volunteer applications, which are available online to members of the community over the age of 18, can be submitted via e-mail, fax, or delivered by hand to the CitySERVE Volunteer Program Office on Center Street. Volunteers can choose the length of time as well as the time of day at which they plan to volunteer. Kevin Vogel, Santa Cruz’s chief of police, said that 18 applications have already been submitted.
City council member David Terrazas works closely with the SCPD volunteer program.
“One of the things I was interested in was encouraging volunteerism within the city,” Terrazas said. “During [my] campaign I met with a variety of public and elected officials to talk about how we could get more people engaged in public service.”
The volunteers will be trained by already paid administrative workers at the police department to do clerical work. Output in the office will go down during training, but as soon as the volunteers begin, output will increase, Vogel explained. Terrazas said that the program will save money in the long run.
“We’re looking at having volunteers out there doing lower level police work that actually has a net positive effect on the budget,” Terrazas said. “That was the purpose of this — to get people out there working on things that need to be addressed and to not take away time from scheduled police officers’ work to do the public safety enforcement that they were hired to do.”
Vogel plans to further develop the program and keep options open for prospective volunteers He said that volunteers will be expected to do a minimum of 12 to 16 hours of work per month in order to make the volunteers worthwhile and cost-effective.
“We are going to interview each one of them and find out where their interests lie,” Vogel said. “We might actually discover other things that we can have volunteers do.”
Bill Christie is a local dentist who has spent many years volunteering at the SCPD as a chairperson for Santa Cruz’s Citizens’ Police Review Board, coordinator for Santa Cruz Citizens’ Police Academy, and will be the first volunteer for the new SCPD volunteer program.
“We all know there’s going to be a challenge with the financing, the resources that the police department has access to, so one of the things I suggested to [Vogel] was to get a volunteer program going and he already had that in mind,” Christie said.
The inspiration for the volunteer program was the Citizens’ Police Academy, a program that allows citizens to learn about the work the police department does. Citizens have the opportunity to drive police cars, use firearms and learn what police detectives do at crime scenes.
The academy left many citizens interested and informed, but without a means to really help and give back to the department. As a coordinator for the police academy, this troubled Christie.
“The academy turned out dozens and dozens of people,” Christie said. “They’d come to me, the coordinator, and say, ‘What can we do?’ and we didn’t have anything for them to do. We’re not going to be confronting criminals or anything like that. We’re just going to be doing what we can to make things easier for the police department.”
Freeing police officers from administrative jobs would greatly aid the department, Vogel said.
“Through the use of volunteers, I will be able to utilize those police employees to do more of the core function that the police department provides: keeping the community safe, handling calls for service, handling traffic incidents, following up on cases and investigations, and community outreach,” he said.
Christie’s nephew, a reserve police officer, is fully trained as an officer but acts as a volunteer. Christie said that average citizens can support the police department from behind the scenes too, and this type of support is just as vital to the department as the front-line volunteer work that his nephew does.
“I don’t want to be a police officer,” Christie said. “My nephew doesn’t get paid at all to be a police officer, and he does it almost every week and he loves it. I want to support them but not on so much of a personal level, confronting the drunks and the criminals on the streets. Why do I want to do it? Because I believe in law enforcement.”