SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - After being sidelined due to coronavirus restrictions, members of the Volunteers in Policing (VIP) are on the beat again.
Wearing a different uniform than sworn officers, but displaying the authority of a badge, the crew is mostly on foot talking to citizens, business owners, attending community meetings, assisting in the police department lobby and responding in emergency traffic control needs.
The position is unpaid, and no prior police experience is required. Recruitment and training is ongoing.
The VIP Director Howie Giles is a former Reserve Officer and helps to place recruits in areas where they may have specific strengths.
The VIP's have been in service since 2017. In the first year they put in about 3,000 hours for the department.
They work mainly downtown and the waterfront, but expand as needed to areas citywide.
On a typical day, the VIP's will inform smokers of the city's non-smoking policy, they will offer the homeless assistance and prevent sidewalk camping, and they will remind bicycle riders in the 500 block to walk their bikes as required in that area. "And that's how we can help the community and avoid accidents and disasters in some instances," said Giles.
Sgt. Ethan Ragsdale says, "They are super helpful reminding community members of certain rules and regulations some municipal code violations that may be occurring that they can handle at their level."
There's also regular contact with business and property owners for feedback, which they got from one owner who has a persistent issue.
"The homeless, the transient and the unstable population," said Dan Baham with O'Malley's bar. "But you learn to navigate through it and negotiate with them."
In hearing about this issue, VIP Officer Dale Kunkel said to Baham, "You don't know if they are they are just sleeping and didn't get enough rest last night or had a heart attack. That's what we respond to- yes."
Giles says off the streets, "We work with the detective bureau and help them out and we work special events and I think our roles are expanding. "
You'll see the VIP's on traffic control duties, and answering questions either in the police station or outside.
"In the near future when we open the lobby completely they will be assisting community members and who might have questions about how to how to pay a parking ticket how to file a police report and they have been so helpful," said Ragsdale.
The VIP's can also be vital by gathering details from eyewitnesses to assist front line officers at crime scenes.
These volunteers come from all walks of life, and do not need prior law enforcement experience to be a valuable part of the team.
For more information go to: Santa Barbara Police VIP or email firstname.lastname@example.org