Wednesday, April 23, 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

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • 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


New mosaic mural reflects Peña family history

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

UC Davis biodigester hungers for food scraps, belches out electricity

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Team Blend hosts fundraiser for Nicaragua project

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A3

Sign up for enviro organizations during Earth Week

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Davis businesswoman presides over conference

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Bible fun featured at Parents’ Night Out

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Fire damages Woodland home

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3

Davis Arts Center: See ceramics, join the Big Day of Giving

By Erie Vitiello | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Register to vote by May 19

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Birch Lane sells garden plants, veggies

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Sunder hosts campaign event for kids

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Fundraiser benefits Oakley campaign

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Odd Fellows host culinary benefit for nonprofit

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

UCD to host premiere of autism documentary

By Cory Golden | From Page: A4

400 bikes go up for bids at UCD auction

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Fire crews gather for joint training

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

UFC hears from two local historians

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Church hosts discussion of mental health needs, services

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

UC Davis conference showcases undergraduate research

By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Train to become a weather spotter

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Fly Fishers talk to focus on healthy streams, rivers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Learn survival skills at Cache Creek Preserve

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Veterans, internees may receive overdue diplomas

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

UCD professor to talk about new book

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

Slow Food tour showcases area’s young farmers

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10



Will anyone notice?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

My votes reflect city values

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

I support Sunder for board

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

A plea on the Bard’s birthday

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

Sharing fire services has been a success

By Our View | From Page: A6

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6



Walchli is under par in another Devil victory

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

DHS/Franklin I goes to the Blue Devil softballers

By Chris Saur | From Page: B1 | Gallery

DHS thunders back to win an epic DVC volleyball match

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Seniors send Blue Devil girls past Broncos in a lacrosse rout

By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Davis gets to Grant ace and rolls in DVC crucial

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Sharks go up 3-0 with OT win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

Baseball roundup: Rangers rally to beat A’s in the ninth

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8



Field to fork: El Macero’s chef offers spring tastes

By Dan Kennedy | From Page: A8 | Gallery



Celebrate spring at I-House on Sunday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Music, wine flow at Fourth Friday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Biscuits ‘n Honey will play at winery

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

Five Three Oh! featured at April Performers’ Circle

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9 | Gallery





Catharine ‘Kay’ Lathrop

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4



Comics: Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By Creator | From Page: B6