Sheriff’s Community Service UnitSep 15th, 2011 | By Suzy Hopkins | Category: Community
Ed Minium has a problem: The service unit he founded two decades ago to help the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office is fading away.
The question is, does the community care enough to help restore it?
Minium hopes it’s just a marketing challenge – nothing this lifelong idea man and inveterate volunteer can’t handle. Though retired for three decades, the 89-year-old Cedar Ridge resident still views life with an eye to progress, invention, and mutual benefit.
That served him well in Silicon Valley, where hard work backed by degrees in chemical engineering and industrial relations brought him success in the nascent semiconductor industry in the 1960s and 1970s. Life began anew after retirement, when he moved to Orange County and met and married his wife, Leslie. In the mid-1980s they moved to Tuolumne County, where she taught school, and Ed’s retirement evolved into a mix of consulting jobs and community service.
Destiny came knocking on a trip back to Southern California when, while strolling through a mall, he saw a sheriff’s substation. “What’s a sheriff’s office doing in the mall?” he recalls thinking. “What a cool idea.”
He chatted with the front-desk volunteer and the deputy manning the outpost, a contact point for child fingerprinting, bike safety and other services. Back home, he brought the concept to sheriff’s candidate Dick Nutting, who promised to consider it if elected. Nutting won, the idea grew wings and the result, in 1992, was the sheriff’s Community Service Unit (CSU).
In the 20 years since, CSU volunteers have devoted more than 250,000 hours to jobs like neighborhood patrols, serving subpoenas, fingerprinting children, directing traffic at events, staffing five offices countywide, patrolling area lakes, and manning a scam hotline.
“We had severe budget problems in the ’90s, staffing was minimal, and more and more we had to rely on volunteers,” says Nutting, sheriff from 1991-1998. “The CSU gave us a tremendous amount of relief. They’ve saved the county untold amounts of money over the years.”
CSU Executive Director Dave Clevenger says the volunteers have saved the county $8 million, doing minor but essential tasks that free deputies for more important law enforcement work. A retired state worker, Clevenger, 66, himself has logged 2,500 volunteer hours since joining five years ago. The nonprofit CSU operates independently from but closely with the Sheriff’s Office. Its volunteers receive initial and ongoing training, and do not carry guns.
Sheriff Jim Mele values the group’s help in whittling a never-ending pile of subpoenas, court orders that must be hand-delivered to residents called to testify at criminal trials in and beyond Tuolumne County. And, he says, CSU members can turn out on short notice, securing crime scenes, for example, which allows deputies or detectives to move to other calls, thus reducing overtime.
Mele notes that his $16 million budget has been cut by 10 percent in the past year; over the past two years, staffing has been reduced by 10 percent. Remaining are 136 employees, including 28 patrol deputies. On average, Mele says, four deputies are available to respond to calls at any given time across the 2,200-square-mile county.
Hard times have also hit CSU volunteers, which accounts for some of the unit’s decline, Mele says, citing retirees who have had to go back to work “just to make ends meet.” It’s had a direct impact, with deputies now delivering more subpoenas.
“It would be very difficult to survive with the budgets that the county has given us without our volunteers,” the sheriff says. “There would be more calls for service that would be pushed to the side.”
Retired phone company worker Sam Reed is doing his part: He’s logged more than 6,500 volunteer hours over 10 years.
“It saves taxpayers money because we do jobs that could require a deputy at times,” says Reed, 67, taking a break from paperwork at the Jamestown CSU office. What does he get out of it? “The enjoyment of helping out the community,” he says, but it’s clear from the jokes and jibes from Clevenger’s desk nearby that camaraderie is a factor.
Forest Service retiree Don Bakka, 77, and good friend Dick Nelson frequently team up to serve subpoenas. Bakka, the CSU’s patrol supervisor, joined in 1992 “because I wanted to give back to the community – it’s just the right thing to do.” He has logged more than 8,000 hours. He crafted a safety manual to deal with subpoena work (and sometimes-reluctant recipients), helps train new volunteers – and wishes fervently that he wasn’t losing several experienced members now moving away.
While 8,000 hours is impressive, consider retired corrections officer Jim Duncan’s tally: 17,000 and counting – the equivalent of eight years of 40-hour weeks. He enjoys helping others, but has an even more practical reason. “If I was just home, sitting in a chair, I’d be dead by now,” explains Duncan, 77.
In his teens, 5-foot-4 Duncan’s dream of being a game warden was crushed by the minimum height requirement of 5-foot-8. Working at a gas station in 1960, he met corrections officers who encouraged him to apply at Folsom Prison. Success in prison, he says, had nothing to do with stature.
“I got along with most inmates,” Duncan says, “because I could convince them that I was sincere in what I said. But I can tell you, there were times I was so damn scared.”
From Folsom, he transferred to California Conservation Center at Susanville, then to the Sierra Conservation Center near Jamestown, where he worked for 24 years (and where his youngest son, Joe, has worked for the past 17). When Duncan started there, the newly built SCC housed about 300 inmates compared to more than 5,000 today.
In 1989, Duncan retired to a life of “honey-do’s” with wife Ruth. About the time that list was exhausted, he saw a notice about the newly formed CSU. He became its patrol supervisor, saw the volunteer roster top 100, and served as executive director from 2004-2006. His grief over Ruth’s death in 2008 sidelined him for more than a year, but he returned to volunteer duty and today helps with minor maintenance on the sheriff’s vehicle fleet.
Given the dedication of volunteers like Duncan, Clevenger, Bakka, Nelson and the rest, you might think Ed Minium could relax at the CSU board’s helm. But of the group’s 60 members – men and women, almost all retirees in their 60s and 70s – only about 20 remain active. And 20 years after its creation, Minium says, too few people know anything about the CSU or its mission: “Assisting the sheriff in making Tuolumne County a better place to live, work and visit.”
Minium’s volunteerism began in his career years when he taught fencing, served on public boards and worked with disabled youth (of his own four children, one son is a retired police officer, and one daughter a police reservist).
In Tuolumne County, Minium started “Volunteer Junction,” linking volunteers with groups in need of help; counseled business owners as part of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives); and, with Leslie, donned period costumes as a Columbia State Historic Park docent. In 2008 he was honored with a Sierra Non-Profit Services legacy award.
If only people knew how good volunteering is for the heart and soul, Minium believes, they would jump at the chance.
“I want more and more people to enjoy what I’ve enjoyed all my life,” says Minium, “the joy and pleasures of community volunteerism.”
A Call for Volunteers:
CSU offices are in East Sonora, Twain Harte, Tuolumne, Jamestown and Groveland. Hours and available services vary; services include reflective house-number signs, $12-16; child and adult fingerprinting; scam and fraud hotline (588-1221); and community resource information. More help is needed on all fronts, including office work, subpoena service, boat patrol and other activities. Volunteers work at least eight hours a month. Applicants will be screened and training provided. Call Dave Clevenger, 743-7631, or Sam Reed, 770-1600.
© 2011 Friends and Neighbors