Ripon’s uniformed police volunteers are hoping to at least double their numbers in the near future in
support of the sworn officers keeping the city safe. VIPS, as they are known, Volunteers in Police Service, have been used only in critical situations this year due to the COVID Virus.
VIPS Lieutenant Rich Searcy has been with the police department for some 15 years having joined in 1994 after moving from Fremont. He explained this week that he currently has only five volunteers on call with two currently taking a patrol unit to Fresno to be fitted for service as a canine car.
No one is presently assigned or will be assigned to vacation house patrol, DUI check point support, Almond Blossom Festival patrol, the Emergency Vehicle Unit Show at the Community Center and traffic control. VIPS officers are called out to serious traffic accidents at the last minute, however.
Searcy said there are five of his team who can be called out to a scene and they will respond immediately. The volunteers also transport paper work -- including citations and warrants -- twice weekly to the District Attorney’s Office and for the Ripon Police Department to Stockton courts.
Currently the five most active volunteers include four women.
The police volunteers are mostly retired and reflect a number of vocations including an electrician, doctor, a retired warehouse worker, farmer’s wife, emergency medical technician, and government employees. They range in age from 25 to 89.
Searcy said that up until COVID struck, the VIPS officers were asked to work eight hours a month -- two hours a week. Now, with the on-call status, there is no time requirement for their service. There is no way of knowing how long this pandemic will last, Searcy noted.
Searcy said he joined the group after seeing an ad in a newspaper not having a clue as to what it was all about, he said. He was a retired union official from the Bay Area, he added.
Over his tenure, Lt. Searcy said three events stand out in his memory. The first was the 2 AM arson fire of the newly completed construction of the Canal Street Grill. It was fully involved in flames when he arrived at the scene, he remembers. It has since been rebuilt after the roof collapsed on the interior of the building.
The second call was four years ago when an almond truck overturned at the intersection of Jack Tone Road and West Main Street closing that intersection. The third most memorable was the death of Officer Bob Winget when his four-wheel utility vehicle turned over on him as he patrolled along the banks of the Stanislaus River killing him. Winget had previously retired from the Loa Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
And a fourth, he recalled would be the death of former Police Chief Red Nutt having suffered a heart attack in the driveway of his Ripon home. Both were memories he would like to forget. Searcy said he and Lt. Steve Merchant were just driving out the back gate at the police department when the call came over the radio.
Speaking for the volunteers, Searcy said, “The Police Department couldn't have done the job they have done over the years without them. They have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city in payroll -- they are invaluable,” he said.
The lieutenant said he used old math calculations to determine what a former VIPS chief could have possibly earned had he been paid the minimum wage of $4.75 an hour for the period of 1996 to 2012. It added up to $123,766. That’s the amount the city saved through his service, he noted.
As a youth Lt. Searcy said the basis of his character was formed in Boy Scouts where he reached a first class status. He also had a paper route to earn his spending money and help his family.
Ripon Police Chief Ed Ormonde opined, “The men and women who voluntarily serve our community through the Volunteers in Police Services Unit are invaluable in what they contribute to our agency on a daily basis. We could not do what we do without them,” he said.
Applications to join the volunteer unit can be picked up at the Ripon Police Department at 259 Wilma Avenue in Ripon.