SAN DIEGO— Gary Adler and Lee Dale have no reservations when it comes to their daily duties as members of the San Diego Harbor Police Department Reserve Senior Volunteer Patrol Program (RSVP).
“We’re an augment,” Adler said.
The volunteer members of the RSVP assist area stations in providing an increased level of security within the boundaries of San Diego Bay, and also provide the crucial quality of added assurance for boaters and recreational water-goers alike. Equipped with a 30-foot SAFE boat, a patrol car and all the fervor of a sworn officer, the volunteers provide additional resources to Harbor Police such as community awareness, slip registration checks and more.
The volunteers, who are all 50 years of age and older are required to devote at least 16 hours a month to the RSVP program while enforcing a spectrum of laws and ordinances within the San Diego Bay, the San Diego Regional Airport at Lindbergh Field and Port Tidelands.
Currently the program, which is funded through the port, has nine volunteers. Each patroller is expected to know the policies and procedures of the department, while being comfortable in communicating with sergeants, officers, dispatchers and administrators.
The volunteers patrol virtually all of all of the Port of San Diego, stretching across the bay to such areas as Shelter Island, America’s Cup Harbor and Harbor Island.
“Were ambassadors, whether we’re in the water, at the airport, or on land,” Dale said.
The program, which was constructed in 2005 by San Diego Harbor Police Cpl. Yvette Joyner, came to fruition after nearly three months of research by Joyner, who consulted with local volunteer programs. After witnessing an Oceanside program which placed its volunteers on the water, Joyner decided to gear the program to tenants of the bay.
“I started with four volunteers,” Joyner recalled. “I called them the ‘Fantastic Four.’ I was looking for volunteers and when they found out about boat duties at the Harbor Police, I started getting calls from people who were already volunteers at other departments.”
The flood of applicants poured in, reaching volunteers with diverse backgrounds in sailing, military, journalism and teaching.
The RSVPs typically work only during daylight hours, patrolling for eight or nine hour shifts. Adler and Dale often carpool to the Shelter Island docks where they and the other RSVPs split patrol duties between a vessel, a patrol car and foot patrol.
On the boat, the RSVPs tune into channel 16, using that transmission to investigate the location of an incident or quickly communicate with dispatch. While the RSVPs do not handle fire safety, EMS, or other hazardous occurrences, they act as a liaison between the incident and the responders.
“We’re the eyes and ears,” Adler said. “We have a very strict structure when we first come aboard. There’s always a boat operator and our second person can be a certified line handler.”
The RSVPs are trained to call dispatch in the case of an incident. For example, if a vessel were on fire, the patrollers would access the area, control the distance between spectators and the fire and provide additional supplies to the fire fighters. The RSVP’s SAFE boat is fully equipped with video cameras, law enforcement lights, plotter, digital radar and an Automatic Identification System (AIS). All RSVPs are trained in standard first aid techniques and carry a first-aid kit on board. Dale said the boat tops out at 45-50 mph, but is typically maintained at 30 mph to save on fuel costs.
While out on the water, the group meticulously combs the areas for navigational hazards, while also distributing violation forms to those anchored in unpermitted areas. Other key concerns for the RSVPs is oil leaking from vessels, improper usage of life jackets and the safety of swimmers, kayakers and paddle boarders.
“If someone is not playing by the rules or the game, we give them a little friendly reminder,” Alder said.
Dale, a retired Navy captain who has volunteered for more than three years, said that 90 percent of the members of the RSVP are military veterans.
“We had a recent retiree who was a World War II vet pushing 90 years old,” Dale said. “He was in better shape than the average 50-year-old.”
Alder, who has volunteered roughly two-and-a-half years, is a former pilot and served more than 20 years in the Navy.
“Everybody has a varied background,” Adler said. “That’s what’s so cool about it.”
Alongside Harbor Police Sgt. Todd Rakos, Joyner allows the RSVPs to essentially manage themselves, but the program is no walk in the park. Prior to being hired, volunteers are given strict lie detector tests and physical examinations.
“The reason we do that is because they are dealing with the public,” Joyner said. “They are privy to information that is not given to civilians. So they have to take classes.”
Adler was quick to outline the program’s rigorous hiring process. He said it took him more than two years to receive a call back after expressing interest and nearly eight months for a detailed background check to be completed.
“This is nothing like you come in and say ‘Gee, I’m interested,’ and they sign you up the next day,” he said.
The process includes a thorough overview of the program, a scrupulous interview process and recommendation, as well as the successful completion of a series of hands-on tests.
“The test is over an hour and a half long,” Adler said. “Not only are we quizzed with the operation of the boat, the mechanical portion of the boat, what the fuel is, how to operate it, etc., we go through a very strict maneuvering, positioning, holding station, how to dock in winds test. This just isn’t someone who gets behind the wheel and patrols. Not everybody that takes the RSVP exam passes.”
Despite the daunting process to become a volunteer, Adler said the labor is worth the reward.
“I’m doing something I love to do,” he said. “Not only are we a special part of the Harbor Police, we feel we’re an integral part because we’re linked in and another set of eyes and ears.”