By Jeff Clemetson | Contributing Editor
RSVP officers make a difference and keep retirees active
When Hector Baca retired from his job as a postal officer six years ago, he started looking for ways to fill his time — and to make a difference. He found both in the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol (RSVP), a special program of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) where seniors over the age of 50 patrol neighborhoods and help with police duties.
“What I like is that it makes me feel like I’m giving back to the city that I love and grew up in,” he said. “I run into a lot of people who are retired and they say, ‘I love retirement but I really don’t have anything to do.’ Excuse me, there’s a lot to do. RSVP is one of them. It’s something to give back to the city but it’s also something for you to do, to be active and just feel good.”
The SDPD’s RSVP program is one of the oldest in the country. There are currently 300 volunteers that work across the department’s 13 divisions.
Mariam Sadri has been a police officer in San Diego for 17 years. Three months ago, she took over the job of coordinating the RSVP program and has nothing but praise for the volunteers she now oversees.
“They put in thousands of hours for the Police Department,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
As RSVP coordinator, one of Sadri’s jobs is to recruit more volunteers. Although San Diego’s program is one of the most successful, there is always need for more volunteers. In SDPD’s Central Division, there are currently 29 RSVP officers, down from 40 just a few years ago.
Becoming an RSVP officer is easy. Applicants must be 50 years or older; retired or semi-retired; able to put in a minimum of three patrol shifts per month; able to pass a background check; physically able to get in and out of a car and be on their feet a couple hours a day; and be comfortable engaging with the public.
Accepted applicants then go through a short academy where they learn to be “a trained observer, but not take any action,” Sadri said.
Whereas the SDPD police academy teaches things like firearms and how to both take down and arrest suspects, the RSVP academy teaches volunteers how to be the SDPD’s “eyes and ears” and use a radio.
“One of the things that is the primary training for all of us is safety,” said Judith Anderson, assistant administrator for RSVP Central Division. “Throughout the academy, through every monthly meeting, there is mention of safety. Whenever there is something dangerous, our weapon is the radio. If we see something going on, we radio it in and we move away from it. Usually two or more police units come within two minutes.”
After the academy, RSVP volunteers do field training.
“We reinforce what they studied in the academy,” said RSVP field training officer Steve Deutsch. “Over a period of four or five weeks, the recruits who went through the academy get a renewal of what they learned [patrolling] with one person at a time.”
Once trained, volunteers are required to work a minimum of three patrols a month, with shifts lasting between four to eight hours. Volunteers always work in pairs and have a variety of duties, including: helping police officers with deliveries, traffic control, answering questions from the public, visibility support at large events, checking license plates for stolen vehicles, and even issuing citations for non-moving violations.
“With our staffing so being so low, there’s only so many things that we can get to on a daily basis with patrol officers,” Sadri said. “So if I can have an RSVP come and direct traffic at an intersection while I’m handling an accident, my goodness, that frees up two other officers who can respond to the robbery that’s occurring or something else.”
In addition to assisting police, RSVP officers also have duties within their own programs. In the You Are Not Alone (YANA) program, RSVP officers check on elderly citizens who live alone. Volunteers are trained to look for signs of medical needs, elder abuse and to help with other issues, like potential frauds and scams that the elderly are often victims of.
“Sometimes they are the only ones that visit at all through the week,” Sadri said.
RSVP officers also check on homes for people on vacation and even help fingerprint children for a database that helps police in case a child is ever missing.
“What I tell the parents is, ‘We do this in case your kid wants to deny that they belong to you when they grow up,’” joked RSVP officer Sanford Feldman.
Feldman, a retired prosecuting attorney, joined RSVP for the chance to meet new people and stay active, which he does during his favorite patrols — biking around Balboa Park.
“There are many things that are great about this program,” he said. “First and foremost is the chance to meet a lot of other very interesting people.”
Anderson — like Feldman, Baca, and Deutsch — agrees that the people are what make being an RSVP volunteer the most rewarding.
“First of all, not only is it a support to the police department and the community because we are the eyes and ears of what’s out there, but it’s great fun,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to meet new friends with varying backgrounds and careers. So spending a day in a patrol car with new and interesting people, for me, is an exciting thing.”
For more information on how to become an RSVP volunteer, contact police Officer Mariam Sadri at email@example.com, or call 619-744-9549.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.