Sheriff’s Team of Active Retired Seniors

CALLING ALL S.T.A.R.S. <br>Dispatch volunteer Cathy Graham monitors the activity of five S.T.A.R.S. vehicles patrolling throughout Butte County.

Dispatch volunteer Cathy Graham monitors the activity of five S.T.A.R.S. vehicles patrolling throughout Butte County.

Photo by Tom Angel

Magalia Substation, P.O. Box 275, Magalia, CA 95954, (530) 872-6337

The morning after a recent rash of car burglaries on the Paradise ridge, every desk in the Sheriff’s Department Magalia substation was occupied by a S.T.A.R.S. volunteer filling out crime reports.

Had these volunteers from S.T.A.R.S.—the Sheriff’s Team of Active Retired Seniors—not been available, sheriff’s deputies would have done the work, potentially taking them away from crucial law enforcement tasks. Since its inception in 1993, S.T.A.R.S. volunteers have donated more than 275,000 hours of service to the department.

While some S.T.A.R.S. volunteers receive special training and are able to assist deputies in crime scene investigation and in the taking of crime reports, probably the most important function of the S.T.A.R.S. is patrolling and providing a visual presence in the community.

S.T.A.R.S. Commander Jim Ratekin describes what they do as being the “eyes and ears of the Sheriff’s Department.” Trained to spot things that look amiss, volunteers provide house checks for vacationing owners, as well as patrolling out-of-way locations that might not otherwise receive much attention.

Patrol volunteer Jim Langdon says most people are genuinely appreciative of the volunteers, especially kids who clamor for junior deputy badges or deputies’ trading cards.

“I have people stop me on little streets that you’d think probably no patrol ever goes down, and they say, ‘Hey, thank you for coming down; we appreciate it,'” Langdon said.

The S.T.A.R.S. also staff the substations, providing dispatch, answering the phones, greeting and assisting the public and providing any assistance the deputies may need.

Ratekin says the S.T.A.R.S. volunteers are also particularly proud of their community service and crime prevention education programs. For example, volunteers set up a Megan’s Law booth at various events that allows people to search a database of convicted child molesters.

Volunteers also assist with the Neighborhood Watch program and make safety presentations to children utilizing Barney, the Talking Patrol Car and Deputy McGruff. Another program, Vanished Children, teaches elementary-school children how to prevent abduction.

A bit of a departure for the S.T.A.R.S. volunteers is their bicycle giveaway program. Bikes that are turned in as found or stolen property, after being held for the prescribed time, are repaired by workers in the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program (SWAP) supervised by S.T.A.R.S. volunteers. The bikes are given away at Christmas to children who couldn’t otherwise afford them.

Last year more than 70 bikes were given away, and this year Ratekin says they’re on track to complete at least 125. Donations of new or used bikes or parts, in frame sizes from 12 to 18 inches, are appreciated.

Men and women are encouraged to join the S.T.A.R.S. ranks. Volunteers must be at least 50 years of age and able to pass a background investigation. New volunteers are given a preliminary introduction to procedures before being sent out for on-the-job training. S.T.A.R.S. volunteers then must attend the next 44-hour training academy, offered twice annually.

“This job is the best hands-on volunteer job I’ve ever seen,” Ratekin said. “We have the rewards of actually physically doing some of the things the deputies do. But in addition, we offer volunteers what volunteers need, like self-satisfaction … and the feeling of self-worth. You can go home in the evening and feel good about what you did that day. You just didn’t just file some letters. You actually made a difference.”

Support from the community is also appreciated, and Ratekin encourages residents to watch for their fund-raising events, including pancake breakfasts and dances. Aside from vehicle maintenance and basic office supplies, which are provided by Butte County, the S.T.A.R.S. rely on fund-raising for all their equipment.