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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Public Safety Endorses VOP Plan


The City of Malibu Public Safety Commission will be issuing a recommendation to the city council to consider establishing a Volunteers on Patrol program under the auspices of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.
The VOP program, one of several Pacific Coast Highway safety improvements discussed following a series of highway fatalities this year, was discussed in depth at last Wednesday’s commission meeting.
According to Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station Malibu liaison Lt. Tracy DeMello, the estimated cost of the program would be 21-27,000, depending on what kind of vehicle the city could obtain. Other expenses include insurance, uniforms and equipment like police-issue flashlights. The sheriff’s department would provide the training.
DeMello stated that Agoura Hills and Westlake Village, two communities also served by Lost Hills, currently maintain VOP programs consisting of four to eight volunteers. The city recruits the volunteers. The sheriff’s department handles the training and conducts background checks.
“Is there a down side?” Commissioner Susan Tellem asked. “Problems?”
“[Only if you] get somebody in there who gets too aggressive and going overboard,” replied DeMello, adding that the station has not had any problems.
DeMello explained that VOP’s must work as a team—there are always two volunteers in a car—and that they are not authorized to make arrests or issue citations, although they are trained to use the LASD’s radio frequency and can call for sheriff’s back up. They can also be trained in traffic control.
Commissioner Marlene Matlow recalled that the City of Malibu briefly had an earlier incarnation of the VOP program called Malibu Volunteer Patrol. DeMello pointed out that Arson Watch volunteers provide extra eyes and ears for the Lost Hills station, and added that a team of Arson Watch members were patrolling Malibu on Halloween night. “They go out at night, do vacation check, things like that,” DeMello said.
The Lost Hills station also has 1500 volunteers who help with everything from clerical work to manning the front desk, DeMello said.
The commission agreed unanimously that the VOP program had the potential to be a safety asset for the city but expressed concern over the cost for a vehicle.
[It would be] cheaper if the city had a car they could provide,” Tellem said.
“We’re short of vehicles as it is,” Public Works Director Bob Brager replied.
Chair Carol Randall suggested asking for a donation from an auto dealership
[The city is] cash strapped,” Commissioner David Saul said. “It’s a major issue. I would approve it it with the donation of a vehicle. Otherwise don’t think we can afford a 20-30,000 hit.”
Tellem suggested that volunteers might be able to use their own cars, but DeMello indicated that liability would be an issue.
“I have problem dictating to the city council what they can and cannot afford,” Randall said. “ We want to recommend they look at it and then it’s up to them.”
The issue of who would direct the volunteers was also discussed.
“I would like to be able to have the Public Safety Commission, not the city council to direct, since we know where the problems are,” Tellem said.
“I don’t think we can dictate this,” Randall replied.
“The city manager not the city council would direct,” confirmed City of Malibu Executive Assistant Mary Linden. “The sheriff’s station reports to the city manager [but there is] nothing that says the city manager couldn’t come back to public safety and say this is the direction.’
At the end of the discussion, the commission voted unanimously to recommend that the city council implement VOP in Malibu and consider actively seeking donation of the vehicle.