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Volunteering for safer streets in Rocklin

By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Over the last eight years, the ever growing corps of volunteers has been the eyes and ears of the Rocklin Police Department at the front desk and out in the community. Now, with the city shrinking due to economic pressures, layoffs and cuts, the need for volunteers is greater than ever, according to city officials. Three years ago, retired nurse Erna D’Amato wanted to put her skills to use in the community through the Rocklin Police Citizen Volunteers program. Now she patrols the city with her partner Violet Daraitis. “We’re out there for people,” D’Amato said. “Today we were approached twice by citizens. If I don’t have the answers, I direct them to where they need to go.” D’Amato said if they spot crime in the community, they call it into dispatch to get a sworn police officer to respond. Daraitis has been on the job for six months and said it gives her pride to serve. “I feel like I’m doing something for the community and I feel like I’m being useful,” Daraitis said. There are 114 volunteers with the department. Of those, there are 35 on patrol to help sworn officers with traffic accidents and DUI checkpoints, abandoned vehicle enforcement, taking fingerprints and vacation and burglary prevention inspections. “We primarily use them to do things to help our paid staff and also do things that our paid staff doesn’t have time to do,” Crime Prevention and Volunteer Coordinator Mike Nottoli said. The exhaustive list of 58 critical functions also includes front counter office work, assistance with investigations and crime prevention demonstrations. “They are awesome,” Nottoli said. “I use to do all the presentations myself when I started in 2002; now we have volunteers that go out in teams. There is no way I could do the amount of work that they are doing. “ In fact, a recent survey by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics said a volunteer work hour is worth approximately $20 to $25 per hour. “Last year, they worked 13,400 hours,” Nottoli said. “Over five years, it’s worth over $1.2 million of volunteer work hours. It is over $200,000 a year just by this statistic.” The city budgets just $15,000 for uniforms and equipment needed to support the program, according to Notolli. During the last city council budget hearing, the volunteer awards were on the list of things that could be axed this year but the council voted against the recommendation, citing support for the program. “If you look at all the work that they are doing, there is no real way to hire a couple employees and pay them to do what these people are doing,” Nottoli said. Nottoli said he’s getting ready to invite more than a dozen more citizens to participate in the program. Each new volunteer would be put through a 14-week training academy in August with scheduled monthly training after that. Those on patrol have even more training. With a waiting list, Nottoli said he can afford to be selective with the candidates who all get a background check. While most of the volunteers are retired, some are students looking to advance their career in law enforcement. Sierra College student David Fountain just interviewed with Rocklin Volunteers hoping to honor a three-year commitment that would get him through his studies in criminal justice. “I wanted to get my foot in the door to see what it’s all about,” he said. “I want to help people.” Nottoli said volunteers come from all walks of life from former law enforcement and government workers to housewives, pilots and doctors. Retired county probation officer and Rocklin resident Glenn Williams said he’s thought about joining the volunteers. “It’s a great idea,” Williams said. “You can have non-sworn officers do probably over 50 percent of the non-sworn duties. They can do it. You can save money that way.” According to the city, the police department is looking to shave more than $600,000 from the budget starting in July . The reductions would reorganize some positions, reduce patrol staffing by 1,600 hours, layoff a sworn officer and retire the department’s only bomb sniffing K-9. Mayor Scott Yuill said the city council will have an opportunity to address the new budget next month. “During budget crunches, the benefit of volunteerism is obvious,” Yuill said. “The volunteers who generously provide time and expertise to our police department have become an example of success to other cities, and critical support to many important functions of the department.” For Daraitis and her partner, they're willing to help the city out in good times and bad. “I am happy to do it,” she said. “I am glad to be of service.”