VISTA — For almost 20 years, the men and women of the Vista Sheriff Senior Volunteer Patrol have helped protect the city of Vista — without ever firing a shot. They have cruised and walked the beats of the city, performing a host of anti-crime and service activities.
“Anything that involves law enforcement, we assist the deputies,” volunteer Jay Parker said.
At 90, Parker is the oldest volunteer. The average age of the group’s 24 members is in the mid-60s. None of them have served on any police force, but many are former military. About one-third of the volunteers are women.
The patrol has an eclectic set of duties. It provides traffic control and security for investigators of homicide or suicide. Its members hand out parking citations and they help man DUI checkpoints.
They also check up on the houses of vacationers and shut-in seniors. Sometimes they help find missing children and Alzheimer’s patients.
As additional eyes and ears of the sheriff’s station, they can be invaluable for spotting criminals on the loose as well as preventing crime before it happens.
“If a guy’s going to knock off a house in the neighborhood, and he sees a squad car pass or one of us pass, then he goes someplace else,” Acting Administrator Ed Delava said. “The more you got out there, the better off you are.”
The problem is the Vista patrol has been shrinking, not growing. Amongst its neighbors, it has the smallest patrol per capita. Ann Pion, 84, chalks it up to a lack of volunteerism in the community. Delava attributed it to more active recruiting by the other cities.
This is changing. Parker, Pion and others have been making the rounds, giving demonstrations to promote awareness of the patrol. As a result, the enrollment in their latest patrol academy is four, the largest class in five years and double the usual number.
The volunteers keep busy, sometimes responding to calls in the middle of the night, but the schedule is flexible and the work very safe.
“We’ve never even had anyone hurt,” Parker said. “We don’t take any chances. These fellows know that if they did bother us, they’d have the whole law enforcement on their tail and they don’t want that.”
Julio Perez, 75, is one of the patrol’s newest members. As the only Spanish speaker, his contribution is invaluable.
“I just like to give something back to the community from what I’ve been receiving,” Perez said. “I’m retired. I have a lot to do in my house, but I want to get out of my house for a little bit.”
“It’s a good job,” Pion said. “It’s fun. Most of the seniors, they just stay home and get old and die. They’re not busy. You’ve got to stay busy when you get to our age.”
The Senior Patrol is not the only option for seniors who want to help out in law enforcement. Delava’s wife, Marilyn, has been a Station Volunteer for seven years. She assists detectives with filing and processing of pawn sheets. Her work has been critical in recovering stolen property, from laptops to diamonds.
“Stuff like that is fun,” she said. “It’s like ‘Aha!’ I got the guy.
“What I love with the detectives is … instead of just socializing with just people your own age, you’re getting in with the community,” she added.
“I like the people we meet and I love the deputies that we work with,” Pion said. “They’re all so nice to us.”
Ten-day academy classes are held every three months for those joining the patrol. The next session is in April. For more information on the Senior Patrol or Station Volunteers, call (760) 940-4551 and ask for Jay Parker or Ann Pion.
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