By Edwin Folven, 2/06/2014
Santa Monica resident Jim Frank had enjoyed a successful career as an attorney, judge and businessman before going into semi-retirement in the late 2000s. At the time, he never dreamed he would soon enter the world of law enforcement.
But all of that changed on a single afternoon in 2009, when he went on a ride-along with Capt. Eric Davis, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division. The ride was supposed to last a couple of hours, but Frank ended up shadowing the captain all day. It was during that time that Frank realized he had a knack for police work, and he decided to join the ranks of the Wilshire Division volunteers.
“I have been so lucky throughout my life. I was an attorney for thirty-five years and also a judge pro tem. I am a car guy and a racer, and a businessman,” Frank said. “After I retired, I wanted to give something back to the community. I stumbled into this, and it seemed like a good fit.”
At the request of a friend, he attended a fundraiser in 2009 for the Wilshire Division’s volunteer program. Attendees were asked to participate in an auction, with proceeds benefitting the program. One of the prizes was the ride-along with the captain, and Frank ended up with the prize.
Frank now spends at least three days a week at the police station, staffing the front desk, working at special events, or helping the sworn LAPD personnel on projects. Frank said he works eight-hour shifts on average. Volunteers are not paid, but he said the position is very rewarding, as it gives him a sense of fulfillment in helping others.
“I feel like I am valued here. It’s really a family feeling,” Frank said. “I’ve done all kinds of things, and I really love it [at the Wilshire Division]. When I sit at the front desk, it’s like being in a squad car, but instead of you going to an incident, they come to you. You have to know how to do everything, and you have to be on your toes. You never know who is going to walk through that door.”
The Wilshire Division has two categories of volunteers: standard volunteers and specialist volunteers. Frank is classified as a specialist volunteer, and to attain the position, he was required to undergo an LAPD background check and training in report writing, computer searches, radio usage and police procedure.
Standard volunteers must undergo background checks but require much less training. They primarily staff the front desk, answer phones and help with filing. The volunteers are not issued a police badge or allowed to carry a gun, and their schedule is flexible because many of them also work full- or part-time, and there is no minimum number of hours required. Frank said the training is especially valuable if a volunteer later decides to take the next step and applies to become an LAPD reserve officer, which Frank said he is considering.
Sgt. A.J. Kirby, the officer in charge of the division’s Community Relations Unit and the volunteer program, said there are approximately 10 specialized volunteers and 40 standard volunteers at the station. Department-wide, the LAPD has approximately 3,000 volunteers. Kirby added that youths under 18 can volunteer with the station’s cadet program, which was formerly known as the Explorers. Kirby said there are approximately 13 to 20 cadets currently in training, and approximately 100 on the station’s roster. They are primarily used to staff special events and functions. He said that the volunteers are invaluable to the department.
“It’s a big plus,” Kirby added. “They free up our officers to do the things they need to do.”
Frank said he has been involved in a variety of specialized assignments, such as staffing DUI checkpoints, as well as undercover operations. During a burglary and theft from motor vehicle undercover operation, he played the part of a “befuddled” elderly man who parked his car and walked away with valuable items left in plain sight. He couldn’t divulge any details about the operation, but said two suspects were arrested for attempting to steal the property.
“I am very versatile,” Frank added.
Rachel Agajanian, a former Hancock Park resident who spends between 20 and 90 hours a month as a standard volunteer, said it gives her a sense of being involved in the community.
“It’s nice to be involved. It’s very interesting,” Agajanian said.
Kirby said the volunteers provide multiple roles at the station, and many bring their different areas of expertise to the position. Peter Nichols, a Melrose District resident who is a co-founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, also volunteers. Nichols is a marketing consultant who has enough free time in his schedule to assist the division in designing and printing flyers, and other services that require technological expertise.
“I’m in a position in my life now where I can choose what I want to do, and I wanted to give back to my community,” Nichols said. “That’s why we started the neighborhood watch, and a big part of that is the police department. I offered to help them with their initiatives, and to give a more polished, appealing look to the things they have going on.”
Kirby said the flyers Nichols produced for a fundraiser last fall were so well received that representatives of other divisions began inquiring about how he could also assist them. The sergeant added that the volunteer program symbolizes the true meaning of police-community partnerships.
“They help us out in a lot of ways,” Kirby added. “The services they provide are invaluable.”
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer at the Wilshire Division can contact officer Jonathan Miller, with the Community Relations Unit, at (213)473-0200. Information is also available at www.lapdonline.org/volunteers.