Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Volunteers of America, make that Volunteers of Malibu, are Rita Meter-Maiding

Even without the sterling example of George Zimmerman, I’m a bit hinky about community patrols. I suppose if I lived in a neighborhood where the folks wanted to make their streets safer, instead of in one where they’re pretty darned safe to begin with, I would consider tromping around with my neighbors in a show of ‘take our streets back’ force.  (Just thought of the Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels for the first time in years. Are they still around?)

Anyway, IMHO, with community patrolling – especially in locations that are on the gun-happy side -  there’s a lot of potential for cop wannabe run amok (c.f., George Zimmerman) and vigilantism. Mostly, I’ll leave the policing to the po-po, thank you.

While I was familiar with the concept of community patrols, I was less aware that there are also people who explicitly volunteer to help out their local police force.

There are so many worthy places to volunteer, being a fake cop would be pretty low down on my list.

Isn’t policing what we pay out taxes for?

But the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has a group called Volunteers on Patrol, a group of civilians:

…dedicated to providing excellent service through relationships that build trust, create a safe environment, and enhance the quality of life in our communities within a “Tradition of Service”.

VOP Program Principles:
  To be proud representatives of the community by being highly visible while on patrol. The primary objectives for the members shall be to prevent crime by mere presence, or identify public hazards. Members shall also act as the eyes and ears of the Sheriff's Department by identifying suspicious activities, crimes in progress, or dangerous circumstances. The members shall not take action themselves, but shall notify the proper authorities for handling.

Other than the explicit “prevent crime by mere presence’, which we all do, I guess, whenever we go out in public, don’t most citizens do this already? We call in pot holes. We report crimes in process and dangerous circumstances.  Suspicious activity, well, that’s a slippery slope. Talk about eye of the beholder. But, sure, if I saw suspicious activity – say someone shimmying up my back fence – I’d dime it.

In fact, a number of years ago, I did report someone shimmying up our back fence and standing on the roof of the backyard storage shed. It was 2 a.m., it was one of the rare times when I was home alone, and there was a big guy standing on that roof, about six feet from our living room window. Perhaps if I were a braver type, I would have confronted him. But I dialed 9-1-1 instead. Turns out it was a kid staying with his friend upstairs, and he’d gotten locked out. (He apparently wasn’t familiar with the conept of the buzzer.) But it could have been the real deal…

Anyway, I don’t think that the Boston PD needs me to be any more than a citizen on alert.

But those official cop volunteers in Malibu, well, as of last week, they’re empowered to give out parking tickets.

The city said the program could save Malibu as much as $50,000, preserve deputies' valuable time for more serious crimes, and enable it to enforce new parking restrictions. (Source: Southern California Public Radio.)

I realize that every community’s strapped these days, but tell me Malibu needs to save $50K.

The effort is an extension of Malibu's "Volunteers On Patrol" program. The group's members have been assisting deputies with directing traffic, monitoring parking, and issuing warning citations for the past two years. 

Come on, I can sort of understand wanting to help the cops catch bad guys, and keep a watchful eye on the neighborhood, but volunteering to be a traffic cop or meter made?

"They attend a half-day training wherein they're taught about what constitutes a moving violation, how to mark tires on cars, how to deal with people and avoid conflict — that kind of thing," [City of Malibu spokeswoman Sandi Turner] says.

Something tells me that a half-day training won’t be enough to handle the wrath of someone’s who particularly peeved that they’ve gotten a ticket, wrongfully or rightfully.

And talk about the temptation for abuse.

A friend or a cute young thing goes a bit over the three-hour max, and you give them a pass.

Same for someone who looks a bit scary. Not that there are a lot of them in Malibu, but who wants to wrangle with the tatted-up dude with a American Nazi Party bumper sticker?

But someone you just don’t like the looks of. Or the make and model of their vee-hicle. Tickets ‘r Us.

Not that meter-maids don’t make judgment calls all the time, but they can always pull official rank if someone they know tries to weasel them, or the tatted up dude tries to intimidate them.

The Malibu volunteers are given uniforms and police radios, so they can call in the cavalry if the tatted up dude gets pissy, or the cute young thing turns out to be a psycho escapee from Girls Gone Wild.


Curiously, the volunteers don’t have any fixed schedules – they just go out whenever they feel the urge – as long as they’re on patrol 16 hours a month. (I must be misreading something here. How can this system possibly work if the city doesn’t have a clue whether there’s going to be someone out there directing traffic or tagging cars?)

Anyway, one of the reason why Malibu is so keen on its volunteer ticketers is that parking is at such a premium there.

Parking scofflaw  techniques are many and varied (and often involve trying to illegally restrict beach access).

"So you have a lot of problems on the public roads where people have put up no parking signs, where they have fake driveways, where they have fake garage doors, where they put out orange cones, sometimes in conjunction with no parking signs, where they actually send security guards out and tell you you can't park there," [Jenny] Price [an advocate for public access to Malibu beaches]said.

Price’s concern is that Malibu is putting to much focus on “parking near the big public beaches, and yet they've shown no concern at all about the really serious problem of blocking off public parking by private homeowners," she said.

In real life, neither might be a problem much longer.

I saw an article in Vanity Pair on beach erosion in Malibu.

Another couple of years, there may not be any beaches to illegally or legally park at.

The volunteers will have to find something else to do with their 16 hours a month.

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