Wednesday, April 16, 2014

For the love of it: Davis volunteers add sparkle

0216 VIPS SoltaniFirmanW

VIPS Cyrus Soltani and Arek Firman are part of the city's program to utilize volunteers to help perform tasks needed by the police department, among others. Courtesy photo

From page A1 | February 16, 2014 | 2 Comments

That woman who works the archives for the Police Department. Those people mulching at the park. That guy in the yellow hat and shirt doing traffic control downtown on Picnic Day.

They’re not getting paid.

And neither is “George,” as we’ll call him, because we don’t want everyone to know who he is. George logged more than 600 hours last year covering up graffiti, some of it gang-related.

These people are volunteers, whose motives for helping run the city range from wanting to see a nearby park shine to getting out of the house or staying active in their retirement years.

The city’s motives for outfitting them and giving them duties are clear. Budgets are tight, and in some cases volunteers do the work that used to be filled by a paid person. George actually learned from a paid graffiti hunter prior to the 2008 financial crisis; now the Police Department relies on him to get the graffiti cleaned up.

Besides the police and parks departments, public works and city administrative offices use volunteers to do everything from routine filing to coyote monitoring and mulching. But they all work under the label of VIPS: Volunteers In Police Service.

‘I do get a lot of smiles’
Some volunteers like downtown host John Arnold, 65, do it for the smiles. As a host, Arnold said the city equips him with a bright yellow hat, brochures, a yellow jacket and a yellow polo shirt and sends him downtown to direct out-of-towners and newcomers to local businesses and parking. Some questioners are completely lost.

“Just yesterday someone asked me where the freeway was,” he said.

It’s good exercise, he added, and he likes to be out and about with a fist full of brochures, ready to help. He found the gig by responding to an ad in The Enterprise. So far, he’s been out three times.

“Sometimes we’re in pairs and sometimes we’re by ourselves,” Arnold said. “People occasionally ask me what we’re doing, but I do get a lot of smiles.”

Smiles aren’t what keep Sandy Sokolow, 80, doing what she does. The former journalist and paralegal for the Sacramento Bee and Sacramento District Attorney’s Office, respectively, said 13 years ago she went to a retirement dinner for a police friend of hers, when someone got to talking about the needs at the Police Department for an archivist.

Sokolow was ready to be more active in her retirement, so she agreed to the job — logging and clipping articles about the department, usually from The Enterprise and the Sacramento Bee.

“We also clip stories about law enforcement,” she said. “We clip and keep them in notebooks.”

Sokolow pre-dated the VIPS program in Davis — other cities have their own VIPS — but Sokolow said she’s watched as the program has grown and the Police Department has benefited.

Kelly Vitaich, volunteer coordinator and police services specialist, said VIPS is more than a decade old at the Davis Police Department, logging 3,300 hours of service estimated to be more than $73,000 worth of labor if each of the 59 volunteers was paid a $22.14 wage. The 15-member police cadet program logged another 186 hours, an estimated $4,118 in wages.

The Parks Department has an adopt-a-park program that allows people to care for a park near their homes. So far the program is working with five groups and 18 individuals. The Public Works Department uses volunteers to give tours of the wetlands, monitor the coyote population near the city’s borders and clean up local ponds. There were 118 volunteers in 2013.

Elbow grease and dedication
And then there are volunteers like George who help make the city sparkle, literally.

He’s part of a special group of VIPS who are experts on tagging and work with members of the Police Department to identify and remove graffiti, often using caustic chemicals.

Vitaich and fellow Police Services Specialist Taylor Klisiewicz, who works with code enforcement, ran a volunteer recruitment and PowerPoint training session Thursday night with George that attracted 17 people who are interested in combating graffiti.

Klisiewicz and Vitaich went over the basic types of graffiti — local artsy tags, bored scribbling, gang wannabe, racist, sexist, offensive and gang — as well as the types of cleaning agents used for various surfaces, where elbow grease accompanies each one. The group also discussed well-known graffiti taggers.

“He’s growing as an artist,” Vitaich joked of one tagger.

Klisiewicz told prospective volunteers there were 1,219 instances of graffiti last year on 19,000 square feet of surfaces. All were cleaned at a cost of materials and labor of $67,764.

If the graffiti causes damage of $950 or less, it’s a misdemeanor. More, and it’s a felony.

VIPS don’t clean graffiti on surfaces owned by PG&E, Caltrans, Davis Waste Removal or AT&T. Log it and pass those by, Vitaich told the group.

After the presentation, George was approached by prospective volunteers asking about his experiences.

On sidewalks, which are porous, he said he often has to go back three times and clean on his hands and knees to get graffiti out. Other times, it’s best to paint over it, it’s so bad.

He works downtown a lot, but because he got sick over Christmas with that bug that was going around, graffiti taggers have had a field day, he said. George said while he may not be fast in getting to it, he can keep up.

“What I like is when they leave you little notes, like (one local tagger), who tagged, ‘Blessed are the people who clean up after taggers.’ ”

To get involved, go to

— Reach Dave Ryan at or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews


Discussion | 2 comments

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  • The observerFebruary 16, 2014 - 8:12 am

    It's not about the city budget; it's about the good character of the people. The smaller the gov't, the bigger the citizens. The bigger the gov't, the smaller the citizens.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • DougFebruary 18, 2014 - 8:25 am

    A big THANK YOU to all the volunteers that make Davis a great place to live!! And an extra special thanks to you, "George", for all your work combating graffiti!

    Reply | Report abusive comment


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