The Rutherford Report: Sheriff's Volunteers An Eclectic Group

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“Three keys to more abundant living:
caring about others, daring for others, sharing with others.”

—William Arthur Ward
Sheriff’s Volunteers An Eclectic Group

In the early 1990s, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department created its Volunteer Forces Unit to better manage the army of residents who contribute their time and energy to help make their communities safer.  

Today, the unit oversees more than 2,000 volunteers who annually donate more than 300,000 hours of their time to support the Department.  

“We have one of the largest volunteer units in California, and we have one of the largest volunteer search and rescue units in the nation,” Sgt. James Mahan said.  

With more than 600 members, the Sheriff’s Citizens on Patrol program accounts for the bulk of the Department’s volunteers. It began countywide in 1986. COP members are typically retirees who want to give back to their community.  

By shuttling vehicles in need of maintenance to the garage, directing traffic at accident scenes and performing other tasks, these volunteers save the Sheriff’s Department tens of thousands of dollars annually and they help keep deputies in the field rather than handling tedious tasks.  

Citizens on Patrol volunteers also cruise through neighborhoods searching for suspicious activity and conduct home vacation checks for residents concerned about their properties while they are away.  

Search and rescue comprises the next largest component of Volunteer Forces with more than 500 volunteers. These volunteers regularly trek into the forest and desert at all hours of the day on foot and horseback in search of lost and injured hikers. They often work hand in hand with the Sheriff’s Aviation Division to hoist hikers out of precarious situations.  

The volunteers—most of whom are outdoor enthusiasts—work on various teams established throughout the county. The Search and Rescue Teams include West Valley, Rim of the World, San Bernardino Mountain, Bear Valley, San Gorgonio, Wrightwood Phelan, and Valley of the Falls. The Sheriff’s Department also has a Cave and Technical Rescue Team.  

Last year, the teams conducted 175 search and rescue operations and helped save 260 people.  

Explorer Scouts make up the third largest branch of the unit. These young people between 14 and 21 years old assist at community events and perform clerical tasks at the various sheriff’s stations around the county. Most of them are interested in becoming deputies, and being an Explorer Scout gives them a glimpse behind the scenes of the profession, Mahan said.  

Reserve deputies are the smallest contingent of Volunteer Forces with about 90 members, but they have to undergo more training than other volunteers and must pass the same physical and psychological tests that deputies undergo before being hired.  

“They put themselves through almost a full academy while working full-time jobs in order to become reserve sheriff’s deputies,” Mahan said. “They have this heart and soul drive to help out.”  

There are three levels for reserve deputies that dictate what tasks they are allowed to perform. Level three reserve deputies are restricted to specialty units such as Aviation, and level two reserve deputies ride on patrols but only with a partner.  

“Level one reserves can do anything a deputy sheriff can do, but they don’t get paid for it,” Mahan said.  

They are also subject to the same perils as law enforcement officers.  

In 1960, Reserve Deputy Billie Heckle from Fontana was shot and killed while investigating a car theft in Bloomington. He is the the only San Bernardino County Sheriff’s reserve deputy killed in the line of duty.  

Some are looking to break the monotony of their desk jobs, while others are retired deputies who yearn to be back on the beat.  

“I call it separation anxiety,” Mahan joked.  

The Sheriff’s Department is also served by a squadron of more than 600 “support volunteers” which includes clergymen, paramedics, doctors, pilots, local business leaders, and other professionals from throughout the County.  

Learn more about the Sheriff’s Volunteer Forces Unit at
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