The journey from resident to citizen volunteer at the Bakersfield Police Department starts with dedication and a good pencil.
The almost 30-page application begins with a basic questionnaire before delving into a personal history statement and background check.
But if you ask Edwina Tripp, Community Relations Specialist for the Bakersfield Police Department, the volunteers who make it through the Citizen Academy process aren’t signing up to file paperwork or pass out pamphlets — they are becoming an essential part of the police department.
“We take this seriously. Our volunteers, once they pass, represent Bakersfield Police Department,” Tripp said. “They go through a rigorous training, but once they are done, they become a part of making a difference in our community.”
The Citizen Academy
The 8-week Citizen Academy Program is celebrating its sixth year at Bakersfield Police Department. The department was forced to reschedule academies in 2020 and in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The course includes a three-hour weekly class; 24 hours of training; education and demonstrations; a curriculum of 21 classes; demonstrations from the K-9 Unit, SWAT Unit, and Bomb Squad Unit; a 10-hour ride-along with a patrol officer; and a four-hour session at the Communication Center.
The Bakersfield Police Department aims to have about 40 volunteers to help with assignments and special events, to help keep the city humming along.
Many of the volunteers who graduate the Citizen Volunteer Academy are able to patrol downtown and city parks in an “observe and report” capacity, work with Animal Control, assist in animal vaccination clinics, help with Child IDs, canvas neighborhoods, and greet the public by working the front counter.
They are also tapped to help for the big City events including National Night Out, Coffee with a Cop, Battle of the Badges, K-9 Trial, and Memorial Runs.
“Our volunteers have the opportunity to do so much, and we appreciate all they do. Some will volunteer more than 500 hours in a year, and others may not have as much time,” Tripp said. “We have a mixture of people, some who are retired, some that are younger who also have an interest in law enforcement. But we all end up bonding like a family, and make sure everyone is taken care of.”
From volunteer to aspiring police officer
Luis Paz started his volunteerism as a Bakersfield Police Explorer in 2015, but when he aged out of the program, he joined the Citizen Volunteer Unit.
“I immigrated to the United States when I was 16, and I already knew I wanted to become a police officer,” said Paz. “Growing up my family went through a series of unfortunate events, including a lot of domestic violence. The police would arrive, and I was always surprised they didn’t know us, but here they were trying to help our family. Something clicked inside of me.”
“I knew I wanted to be the person I needed when I was younger,” he said. “To be the person I didn’t have.”
Paz, now 22, is attending Bakersfield College and earning a degree in Administration Justice. He works almost 50 hours a week, goes to school and volunteers at Bakersfield Police Department. He is currently a candidate for the police academy and looks forward to working with the community as a full-fledged police officer.
“One of the assignments I did as a volunteer was working Christmas in July last year. We went to a homeless shelter and the police officers had bought personalized gifts for more than 50 kids and seeing them all smiling and having a wonderful time,” said Paz. “They were able to forget what they were going through in their life and just have fun and that brought me so much joy to see.”
Never too old to learn a new lesson
At 70, Bob King is semi-retired, but still dabbles in real estate, travels with his wife, and volunteers with the Bakersfield Police Department. He’s been a volunteer for seven years and through his experience has discovered what it truly means to be a police officer.
“Before I started volunteering with Bakersfield PD, I always thought police were the last people you want to see in your rearview mirror, but the first person you want to see at your front door when in trouble,” King said. “But now I know them, and I would go out of my way anytime for these folks. They go out there and do incredible things every day. And that’s not part of their job description, that’s just who they are. It’s why they do what they do.”
King has worked with the department since 2015. He earned a certificate for most hours served and is notably known for rescuing a family from a house fire in September 2016 as he was patrolling a community in south Bakersfield. He noticed a fire in a garage attached to a single-story home and knocked on the door to alert the family, who were unaware.
“It’s a privilege to do what I can for this group of people who I learn a lot from, even at my age. After I retired, I thought I knew what this world was about, but I had my eyes opened by what it really means to be of service,” King said. “I do what I can and contribute how I can when Bakersfield PD needs an extra set of eyes.”
Student volunteer connects with community
Vanessa Mateo always knew she wanted to help others and was deciding between nursing school and becoming a police officer.
While studying at California State University, Bakersfield, Mateo learned about the opportunity to intern at the police department. When her internship was over, she applied for the Citizen Academy and found it was a great way to serve in law enforcement while she earned her degree in criminal justice.
“Through the academy I was going on ride-alongs, learning about impounds, doing park patrol, helping out at events and helping out the department wherever they needed me,” Mateo said. “Being a part of the academy helped me interact more with the community, see what officers do, and gave me the chance to interact with them and ask them all the questions I had on how to become a police officer.”
Mateo, 26, has been working at the department for the last five years. She made her way from intern to volunteer to temporary clerk typist to full-time clerk typist. She is currently in Bakersfield Police Department’s Police Academy, which began April 4.
“I would definitely recommend the (Citizen) Academy to anyone who really wants to help out their community,” Mateo said.
For more information on Citizen Volunteer Academy, please email Edwina Tripp at email@example.com