For the past 28 years, the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol (RSVP) has shown up for both the community and the San Diego Police Department, providing extra eyes and ears to deter crime, check in on the elderly and serve as overall “ambassadors of goodwill,” while on patrol in specially marked cars cruising through La Jolla and Pacific Beach neighborhoods.
According to Northern Division RSVP member Ed Kitrosser, who joined the program in 2013, “I never regretted it. I love it. I really feel like I get more than I give when I do this.”
But on Friday evening, March 13 amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has shaken the world, the RSVP program (and all other volunteer services that partner with the police department) was officially “suspended” until further notice.
That’s because RSVP members are age 50 or older, a demographic strongly urged by the Centers for Disease Control to remain indoors whenever possible right now to practice social distancing, as they may be more susceptible to coronavirus.
When RSVP volunteers are in the field, they assist police with a plethora of essential, non-confrontational duties. These include, but are not limited to:
• Patrolling schools, religious facilities and banks;
• Calling in abandoned vehicles;
• Writing citations for vehicles illegally parked in handicapped spaces;
• Participating in community events;
• Conducting business security surveys;
• Traffic control;
• Helping citizens with concerns;
• Making vacation house checks;
• Making YANA (You Are Not Alone) visits to senior citizens to see about their well-being.
Patrolling the community keeps RSVP volunteers busy during the day. According to records, last year Northern Division RSVP spent a total of 3,577 hours on crime prevention.
Kitrosser assured La Jolla Light that just his being seen driving through a neighborhood, can cause mischief-makers to think twice.
“Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve gained a whole new respect for police,” he added. “Because there are some days you wouldn’t believe the radio chatter that goes on and the dangerous situations they’re in. It’s unbelievable.”
Last year, Northern Division RSVP spent about 85 hours diverting traffic after accidents or incidents — including during the hazmat scare on Wrelton Drive in Bird Rock last November.
“When we show up, there may be four or five black-and-whites there diverting traffic or whatever, and if we can get there, we can relieve some of those on the scene, and they can go chase the bad guys,” said Northern Division RSVP member Dave Johnson.
Kitrosser added: “To me, that’s one of the most satisfying things — when we can do something to give the officers freedom to just do their jobs.”
With coronavirus halting all other duties for the time being, Kitrosser told La Jolla Light the only way volunteers can continue their RSVP work is by conducting YANA checks via phone calls.
The program currently has six elderly community members in need, so six RSVP members were assigned an individual to call on the days they would usually be visited.
On the afternoon of March 2, La Jolla Light went on a ride-along with Kitrosser and Johnson to visit one of Northern Division’s favorite YANAs. 103-year-old Vivian has been in the program for more than a decade.
“These guys have been so faithful to come and visit me for — what, 15 or 20 years?” she mused. “They will thread my needle (for sewing projects) and clean my vacuum cleaner. They go overboard to be caring and loving and attentive. Oh yes, they’re a fine bunch of people.”
Recently, Vivian moved to the retirement home where she presently resides. Though the RSVP doesn’t usually make visits to retirement homes, Vivian was “grandfathered in” to the program and is still visited bi-weekly. Any other year, a birthday party would be held near the end of April to celebrate the home’s residents all at once. Many RSVP members attend, along with police lieutenants and often the police captain.
A day in the life
For volunteers, a typical day begins around 8 a.m., when they gather to hear from the “lineup leader” who is responsible for coordinating teams, patrol areas and schedules. At about 8:30 a.m., the troops set out to make their rounds.
Kitrosser and Johnson explained that YANAs and Vacation Home Checks are important to complete first to ensure these tasks get done, in case the volunteers are needed elsewhere later in the day.
Vacation Home Checks can be requested by residents planning to be away from their house for a period of time. RSVP members will stop by, look around, make sure nothing fishy is going on and see that all windows and doors are locked.
Wanted: RSVP members
Founded in Rancho Bernardo in 1992, the first Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol class had 21 graduates. Today, the program boasts 300 volunteers, with patrols in every police division in San Diego County.
Northern Division RSVP, one of the only RSVP programs to operate out of their division’s police station (4275 Eastgate Mall) is made up of 30 volunteers and is on the lookout for at least another 10 members.
“Most people like to do a volunteer thing, and most people don’t like to sit behind a desk and answer a phone,” observed Northern Division RSVP volunteer Richard Andersen. “A lot of volunteer jobs are that. With us, you’re out in your own community, you’re meeting your neighbors — both people doing good and bad, you’ve got direct contact with them. It gives you an idea of what’s happening in your town.”
To qualify for RSVP, an individual must be at least 50 years old; semi- or fully-retired; have a valid California driver’s license; be available for patrol a minimum of three days a month; pass a background check (the same one San Diego Police Department officers must pass to be sworn in); and have no felony convictions.
Volunteers are not required to live in the same area they’ll be patrolling, but it definitely helps, noted Kitrosser, who pointed out Northern Division’s members come from varied career backgrounds: military, construction, finance, entrepreneurship, teachers — including former La Jolla High football coach of 20 years Dave Tonsford, and a woman who acted as an extra in the film “Titanic.”
A minimum of three shifts per month are required, but volunteers may set their own hours, Mondays-Fridays and occasionally Saturdays.
On average, an RSVP team will be on duty 20-23 days out of the month.
“To me, it’s exciting,” said Northern Division RSVP member JoJo Talcott.
“You feel like you’re making a difference and the program is a good way to keep your mind active by learning new things.”
In the past, required training included a formal five-day academy. Today, volunteers go through one day of training with the police department, and 10 days of field training with an RSVP officer.
There’s also a required ride-along with a police officer for an inside look at what police do.
“You find out that in addition to being a police officer, these folks are referees, social workers, psychologists ... there’s a lot more they do than going out and chasing bad guys,” Johnson said.
Once sworn in, there are two-hour training sessions every second Tuesday.
• WANT TO BECOME AN RSVP VOLUNTEER? Reach out to Northern Division RSVP recruiter Bob Sgambelluri, affectionately referred to as “Sgamby” at (619) 733-4865, or call San Diego Police Volunteer Services at (619) 446-1014 or (619) 446-1016.