South County cities consolidate police volunteer programs

Gayle Tamm,left, and Charlotte Irwin,right, stay on constant communication while doing a house check in Pismo Beach.  photo Jayson Mellom 3-23-10
Gayle Tamm,left, and Charlotte Irwin,right, stay on constant communication while doing a house check in Pismo Beach. photo Jayson Mellom 3-23-10 The Tribune

It was a recent, sunny Tuesday, much like many other Tuesdays, when Gayle Tamm and Charlotte Irwin climbed into an Explorer and drove toward the Pismo Beach pier.

They rolled their windows down while they slowly circled the parking lot, waving at several beachgoers, before heading up Highway 1 toward Shell Beach.

“We’re the eyes and ears,” Tamm said, “the liaison between the public and the police.”

The women are two of seven current volunteers who wear a patch to show they are with the Pismo Beach Police Department. Soon, they’ll add a second patch to their uniforms. This one will read: South County Police Volunteers.

Police officials in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Pismo Beach have decided to consolidate their police volunteer programs. Doing so, they hope, will attract new volunteers, allow officials to hold more frequent citizen academies and graduate like-trained volunteers and give the departments a bigger pool to call on for help during special events or emergencies in the cities.

Having volunteers help work events such as Pismo Beach’s Classic Car Show in June and the Clam Festival in October “saves us a tremendous amount in overtime,” Pismo Cmdr. Mark Miller said.

“If we have a larger pool of volunteers for our special events, we could save $3,000 to $4,000 a year in officer overtime,” said Grover Beach police Chief Jim Copsey, who noted that Pismo Beach and Arroyo Grande both have more special events than Grover Beach.

However, he added: “We’re not doing it really for money savings. We’re doing it because it’s a good idea for people to get involved in their communities, help us out and potentially do some patrolling.”

The departments will also save by having their police volunteers train together. Currently, each department is required to hold a monthly training meeting for its volunteers. In the future, the city departments must host only one training session a quarter, instead of three.

The cities’ citizens academy programs have also been merged into one that will be held at least twice a year, Copsey said.

Doing so will allow officers from the three cities to share instruction of the eight- to 10-week citizens academy.

There are currently about 40 volunteers from the three police departments, including those who just graduated from an eight-week citizens academy, the first held jointly by the three departments.

Once they graduate from the citizens academy, participants can sign up to serve as volunteers for their local police department.

Their work includes everything from helping police monitor special events to directing traffic during accidents or other emergencies, to making sure crime scenes remain secure.

Interested residents should contact their local police department and ask for the volunteer coordinator.

In the meantime, volunteers such as Tamm and Irwin will continue to patrol the streets of Pismo Beach, doing house checks for residents on vacation and alerting officers to any suspicious activity. They also now have a chance to help out their neighboring communities when called upon.

“It’s about helping other cities,” Tamm said.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.