Updated: December 30, 2012 at 12:00 am
Tony Alexander remembers the moment he felt trusted by a sworn deputy from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. He didn’t realize acceptance would come so quickly, in his second week as a Citizen Patrol volunteer.
“I responded to a call asking if a (Citizen Patrol volunteer) was available because the deputy had a priority call, another service call,” Alexander said. “The deputy was leaving for the other call and turned to me and said, ‘Thank you, brother.’
“It was the word brother that made me feel so good. It told me we were joined at the hip and partnering with them. She was confident I could handle the situation and the paperwork.”
The Citizen Patrol volunteer program started in January 2009 and is designed to support deputies and serve the community. The program, which has about 30 volunteers, is funded without local tax dollars.
Citizen Patrol volunteers are commonly called “CPs” by full-timers in the Sheriff’s Office. But they didn’t have immediate respect and trust.
“A lot of patrol guys were skeptical at first,” said Lt. Brian Mattson, the day-shift commander and a 25-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office. “They said, ‘We’ll be running to help them instead of doing our job.’”
Mattson said it took time for sworn deputies to trust the Citizen Patrol.
“Folks started calling them and using them,” Mattson said. “Guys love ‘em now. They’re part of the Sheriff’s Office.”
Dave Brescia, a Citizen Patrol volunteer for more than two years, wasn’t sure the program would work.
“I was hesitant because I didn’t think there would be value,” Brescia said. “Turns out it’s the best thing I could’ve done.
“We’re not law enforcement and we don’t make arrests, but we’re held accountable to do our job properly. We’ve become integrated into the unit. The sworn deputies value us, and we’re thanked constantly.”
Brescia, 57 years old with eight grandkids, typically works two 10-hour shifts a week but said during the Waldo Canyon fire he logged about 140 hours in a 30-day period, most related to the fire.
“CPs were crucial in the fire,” Sheriff Terry Maketa said. “They assisted with evacuations, traffic, and at the shelters that were set up.”
Maketa called Citizen Patrol a great success.
“It’s been very critical,” Maketa said, “especially since we’ve been operating with less sworn staff than we needed. The CPs have been such a force multiplier.
“They’re not kicking in doors to serve warrants, but they do a lot of things to free up deputies for other calls.”
CPs transport evidence for deputies, respond to after-hours burglary alarms, enforce handicap parking, handle traffic control at crashes and assist motorists.
““One thing they take pride in is how many flat tires they fix for people,” Maketa said.
Patrol deputy Kevin Tedesco is thankful for CPs.
“They’re a huge asset to us, and the community in general,” said the eight-year veteran.
“They’re an astronomical help.”
Tedesco said there was initial apprehension about CPs.
“As sworn deputies, we’re put in unsafe situations sometimes,” Tedesco said. “When I heard that wouldn’t happen to them, my apprehension went away. I trusted them quickly when I realized how much training they were getting.”
CPs receive classroom and field training and in 2011 took 112 case reports, responded to 103 animal complaints, conducted 225 motorists assists, took 139 parking complaints, assisted on 326 traffic control events and provided 322 crime prevention tips. CPs donated 1,821 hours and patrolled 60,839 miles.
Citizen Patrol volunteers don’t carry firearms but have pepper spray for defense against two- and four-legged creatures. They drive cars marked with “Sheriff’s Citizen Patrol” that have yellow caution light bars instead of the blue lights on deputies’ vehicles.
Passage of ballot measure 1A — a tax increase to help fund needs in the Sheriff’s Office — in the Nov. 6 election doesn’t mean CPs aren’t still vital.
“We plan to continue the program and build on it every year,” Maketa said.