Ride-along with Malibu “Volunteers on Patrol”

By Terry Davis and Jimy Tallal 

Special to The Malibu Times

City Council approved the establishment of Malibu “Volunteers on Patrol (VOP)” in 2010—as one branch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department program that allows volunteers to help serve and protect the local community. VOP members help identify suspicious activities, crimes in progress, and other dangerous circumstances, as well as enforce City parking regulations and direct traffic. The Malibu VOP team currently has 16 active members.

Local resident Terry Davis, feeling that the VOPs were not as well known in Malibu as they should be, volunteered to do a ride-along with some of the volunteers and report her experience back to The Malibu Times

Davis, who is very involved in the community, is one of the founding members of Malibu CART, President of the Big Rock Homeowners Association, a member of Capt. Becerra’s Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Community Advisory Team and a member of the Malibu Task Force on Homelessness. Here is a sample day in the life of the VOP team. 

Saturday, January 22, 2022. 10:57 a.m. High Wind Warning for Malibu.

I am doing my first “Ride Along” with Mark Russo, the 10-year veteran Team Leader of the Sheriff’s VOP (Volunteers on Patrol). I’m doing so as a concerned Malibu resident who wishes to see how I can best be a “part of the solution” and investigate ways we can collaborate with and assist the Lost Hills Sheriffs’ Station. 

Our first radio call that comes in is a “904B” (Sheriff’s radio code for a Brush Fire) on Kanan Road near Calamigos Ranch. We are on it! Heading up Kanan as fast as we can—behind some traffic, of course, after all, it is Malibu!—to the fire site. As we go through the tunnel and around a bend, we can indeed see thick black smoke being tossed by high winds. We arrive on the scene. The Fire Department is already there with more trucks arriving. People are running up from the driveway of the site, and it is now being reported as a “904S” (Structure Fire)—everyone feels the pressure, the necessity to put this out before the winds carry and fan the flames, creating another disaster. We are instructed to assist another Deputy, block traffic, and close northbound Kanan. We take the South end of the incident—and stop Traffic at Latigo Canyon—allowing cars to either turn around and go back down to PCH or turn off to go up Latigo Canyon. My companions quickly shut down the roadway and politely answered people’s confused queries, offering alternate routes around the fire. A car drives up and reports a traffic collision has occurred just south of the closure. As soon as we are able, we drive to investigate and find a vehicle on the side of the road with significant front-end damage. Mark contacts the driver, determines there are no injuries, and advises the Lost Hills Station Dispatch via radio that there is a “902N” Traffic Collision with no injuries, and the party is awaiting a “926” (tow truck).

So, on this day, a beautiful (yet very windy) Saturday, I am riding with Mark. I am an “Observer.” Or I was supposed to be. But my “MO” has always been to get in there and get my hands dirty. So, “we” directed traffic while “904B” and “904S” were both extinguished quickly and expertly. We were greatly relieved as the 65 mph wind gusts could have exploded this incident into a major inferno. Mark explained to me that the Fire Department is Lead on a fire incident, and LASD supports their needs. In a criminal situation, Law Enforcement is the Lead, and others are support. We eventually opened traffic but remained visible on-site to “calm” traffic. When the fire trucks were released, so were we. Mark had already gone into detail with me about how a VOP unit on-scene can relieve Sheriff’s units so they can clear the incident and address other calls for service.

Mark Russo has been involved almost since its inception. He saw the potential of what the Malibu Team could become by diligently investigating other volunteer programs throughout the state and nation. He then committed himself to making the Malibu VOP Team a model for the LASD, the Malibu/Lost Hills Station, and the communities they serve. Mark and his two Team Training Officers, Guy Blake, and Bill Melcher, promote the concept of being a well-trained and professional unit. I was able to witness the respect they receive and the great working relationship Mark and Guy have with the Deputies we encountered that day.

Mark is extremely proud of the program and is always looking for new, qualified members, as he did with someone we met during the day. The Malibu VOP program is selective. “We look for quality, not quantity,” says Mark. “It is not for everyone.” There is a minimum 16-hour per month commitment along with an extensive and sometimes demanding 6-month training program which covers all the necessary patrol components (Safety, LASD policies, and procedures, driving, traffic control, parking enforcement, radios, etc.), all of which is formatted in a hands-on training experience with the Team’s training staff. The VOPs make almost daily contact with the public while out on patrol, and their interactions, training, and professionalism must always reflect the high standards of the Sheriff’s Department. He said that their goal is to educate the public and hopefully get them to understand the laws and regulations before any citations are issued. They deal with a lot of visitors to Malibu who may be unfamiliar with vehicle codes and local ordinances. They make a point of going out of their way to be polite and helpful but also make sure that the people comply with the law. “You need to have good situational awareness and be able to assess the situation and bring the appropriate resources, be it Deputies, Fire or Lifeguards. “Mark states. “Public Safety is the number one goal for the residents and visitors coming to Malibu.”

In between calls, we patrolled all the “hotspots.” issuing parking “cites” (citations) to vehicles as well as informing visitors where and how they can park legally to avoid a parking citation or public safety issue. I can assure you that all who came in contact with Mark left feeling positive about Malibu and law enforcement. Our last call was a two-vehicle “TC” (Traffic Collision) at PCH and El Matador Beach. Deputies were on the scene, and thankfully, there were no injuries. Both parties were waiting to have their vehicles towed. We relieved Deputies as they had other calls to go to, so we stayed and waited for their “926s.” The sun set, and it got quite dark. We assured one of the drivers, a young woman, that we would wait with her and ensure her safety until her tow truck arrived. She and another car collided on PCH as she was exiting the El Matador beach parking lot, a known problem area, and scene of frequent accidents, according to Mark.

This was my last call as I asked if I could be taken back to my car. I had put in almost 8 hours of Mark’s 12-hour shift, and I was exhausted. I was also greatly impressed by these VOPs.

The Volunteers on Patrol are uniformed, non-sworn members of the Sheriff’s Department, and the Malibu program is underwritten in large part by the City of Malibu. Although the minimum requirement for the program is 16-hours per month, Mark and many of the Malibu VOPs can and do put in as much as a hundred hours in any given month. They are often called out to assist Deputies with major traffic incidents and natural disasters. If you think it is right for you, put in an application, schedule an interview, and go on a ride-along! Men, women, young, old(er) – this could be your way of giving back to your community. If you think you have what it takes and you’d like to learn more about the program, you can contact Mark Russo or Guy Blake at malibuvop@gmail.com

I hope to do more “RAs” (Ride Along) with the VOPs as I also complete my Arson Watch training and look forward to reaching out to Search & Rescue as well as other LASD Volunteer opportunities! There is something for everyone, so stay tuned.

Story was originally published on February 3, 2022.

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