Published July 22, 2013
They’re not exactly hunting Malibu’s most wanted, but a group of civilian volunteers in Los Angeles County are now patrolling the streets for parking scofflaws and other suspicious activity.
Members of Volunteers on Patrol, a joint effort between the city of Malibu and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, were allowed to issue parking tickets beginning on Saturday for the first time under the program, which will enable local cops to focus on more serious crimes. The fines, typically between $50 and $70, can exceed $400 for violations in handicapped parking spots, although it’s unclear whether any had been issued as of early Monday, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Shawn Brownell.
“Their main purpose is to be patrolling and looking for suspicious activity,” Brownell told FoxNews.com. “It’s sort of a modified neighborhood watch, looking for potholes and such. But the primary function is to basically assist local law enforcement officials and just be an extra set of eyes and ears on the street for us.”
The 10 volunteers, who patrol in teams of two, provide a minimum of 16 hours per month to perform non-hazardous patrol duties and consist of retirees, working professionals and men and women of all ages. The youngest Volunteer on Patrol is a 20-something, Brownell said, with senior citizens marking the other end of the spectrum.
“The majority of my volunteers are retired individuals, but we do have some people who are working and volunteering on their own time,” he said.
The volunteers, who also will assist in searches for missing children and conduct school safety checks, can be easily spotted in uniforms consisting of white shirts, navy blue slacks and a gold-on-blue shoulder patch. Volunteer on Patrol vehicles are white, and will also bear the sheriff’s department and City of Malibu emblem, making them easily identifiable.
Each volunteer has been “handpicked with the highest confidence,” according to city documents, and they are instructed to downplay any potential confrontation.
“We definitely stress no violence with these volunteers,” Brownell said. “They follow the letter of the law and if they’re confronted by someone or someone gets in their face, they’re told not to be overzealous. They’re not armed, so they have no way to defend themselves. These are just everyday people out there.”
Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, live or work within Malibu city limits and must not have ever been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanor crimes. Individuals must also have a valid California driver’s license and undergo a background check.
The Volunteers on Patrol program was initially established in December 2010 by the Malibu City Council, which voted last month to expand its duties to parking enforcement following training by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for its volunteers.
Daniel Villefort, who has been volunteering for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for the past two decades, told FoxNews.com he expects to volunteer sometime this upcoming weekend. He has already been trained to mark the bottom of a tire with chalk — and to leave another on the asphalt beneath it — to make sure the city’s three-hour parking limit is honored.
"We're ready to go," Villefort, 53, told FoxNews.com, adding that he's not concerned with potential threats to his safety. "People might have a different image of Malibu, but this is probably one of the most peaceful and friendly cities in the country."
Villefort, whose wife, Denise, also volunteers her time to the program, said they'll both be mindful not to escalate any confrontation with a potential parking violator or suspect.
"We've been trained to be friendly," he said. "You don't start an argument."