Retired seniors ready for patrol

Tom Welch thought it was simply a matter of sitting through an interview, getting his badge and going on ride-alongs when he applied several weeks ago to become a member of Huntington Beach Police Department's Retired Senior Volunteer Program. But there is much more to serving than he had expected.

"We were going through 30 hours [of work a month], from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.," Welch said.

Welch and 12 other retired residents of Huntington Beach will be inducted into the Police Department's volunteer program Wednesday in council chambers. They make up the 12th class to be given badges in the program's 20-year history, community relations specialist Nilda Berndt said.

The new recruits will assist officers by manning the substations in the city, helping fill out paperwork, removing illegal signs around the city and checking vacation houses to ensure they're locked and secured. And they will do these tasks without pay, Berndt said.

They've come from all types of career backgrounds. Welch worked at IBM before he retired. Colleagues Jess Ashmore worked in the Federal Aviation Administration and for Lockheed, Phyllis Turner was an emergency room nurse at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian and Chris Masuzumi was an emergency dispatcher.

"For me, it's more of a connection to my community," said Masuzumi, who believes people spend too much time on their smart phones to notice what's happening around them. "We're going to be privileged to go out there and be the eyes and ears for the community and watch out for things to help the police ... because they are short-handed. We're the extra eyes and ears to help keep the community safe."

Gibbs Park recreation coordinator Leslie Gilson is no stranger to helping her community around the park, but she felt that she needed to help the community at large.

"But I'm still going to do the gardening," Gilson said. "And I wanted to wear a uniform."

Berndt said she usually starts the recruiting process around December. She had 24 candidates at the beginning of the process. After several tests, interviews and group training exercises, Berndt winnowed the number to 13.

Over about seven months of training, applicants were educated about basic emergency protocols and penal codes. Inductees agreed that team-building exercises were quite valuable.

"I missed the teamwork aspect," Masuzumi said about her time as a dispatcher. "I know about budget cuts and the drop in personnel. I figured that I could go do some more teamwork and be more involved in my community."

The group has been well aware of the unfilled positions in the Police Department. Some trainees said working for the volunteer program is the least they could do for Huntington Beach.

"Every time I've called [the police], they've always been out there taking care of the problem," Ashmore said. "That gave me an incentive to want to join the Police Department in some way and pay these guys back."

David Blitz, who is considered the baby of the group at 57, didn't think about the teamwork aspect of the program. He just wanted to help his community.

"I know that [the volunteers] drive around. I've seen their cars," he said. "I thought that would be pretty good, just to help out. All the other things that go with it are pretty good."

When asked what he would change about the program, Blitz answered: "Pay."

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