A Day in the Life of the Volunteer Patrol
Written by Nate Abaurrea
Photographed by Colleen Chalmers
Fred Jamison, 70, drives the Arcata Police Department volunteer patrol car down Highway 101 on a sun-drenched September morning. 87-year-old Lil Stodder sits in the passenger seat. Stodder cannot drive the car. At 5 feet tall, she is unable to see over the wheel.
As Jamison hits the 50-mile-per-hour corridor, he slows down and puts the vehicle into cruise control. He turns up the radio. “Another beautiful day in paradise,” he said.
The Arcata police department started the Volunteer Patrol in 1995, with a few senior citizens involved. There are now 17 seniors on the force, who complete lower-end jobs to relieve the workloads of regular officers. On a daily basis, the Volunteer Patrol might drop off paperwork at the District Attorney’s Office, check on homes while residents are on vacation, serve subpoenas or ticket cars that should not be in handicapped parking spaces.
Volunteer officers do not carry weapons, they cannot make traffic stops, and they are not allowed to take the law into their own hands. The basic philosophy behind the patrol is that the mere presence of a police vehicle will deter criminal activity.
“It’s amazing how other cars will slow down when they see us, not realizing that we can’t stop them,” Jamison said. “One time, this guy was going 75 in the 50-mph corridor, and as he was passing me, I just grabbed my microphone and made sure he saw me. He was scared stiff and immediately slowed down.”
Jamison is a retired schoolteacher with no prior history in law enforcement. He was in the Marine Corps as a young man, and spent over a year stationed in Okinawa in the early 1960s. Once his tour was served, he came back to America. Two days later, on Nov. 24, 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced escalating American involvement in the South Pacific. “I missed Vietnam by two days,” Jamison said. “My paperwork was already done. Two days. I still get chills when I think about it.”
When the duo spots graffiti, Jamison will spray over it, usually with the same color paint as the wall. They also remove yard sale signs and other posts around town. “My favorite part is tearing the signs off the utility poles. It just looks so messy, and I want to make it look nice,” Stodder said.
Since graduating high school in 1944, Stodder has been a nurse, carpenter, teacher, safety inspector, avid traveler and extreme hiker. Now she is an officer in the Volunteer Patrol.
Stodder never backs down from a physical challenge. She has hiked the Inca Trails of Peru, and climbed the snowy mountains of Nepal at over ten thousand feet above sea level. In the next few years, she hopes to climb the mountains again. “I know I’m pretty short, but that was my favorite part of Nepal,” she said. “It’s the only place I have ever been where I felt tall.”
She said that her height is not the reason why she does not drive the patrol car. “Fred just likes to be in control. So I let him do the driving,” she said.
“You certainly get to know your way around Arcata with this job,” Jamison said. “We’re still finding roads everyday that we didn’t even know existed.”
On this Friday afternoon, they ventured to the top of Diamond Drive, where Stodder and Jamison talk about the other volunteers. “I love all the people I get to work with,” Stodder said. “We all come from different walks of life, and we all have very different political points of view.”
“If you’re voting for Romney, I’ll dump you out of this car right now,” Jamison said to those in the patrol car.
While their vehicle lacks many of the sophistications of a normal squad car, it does have a working siren. Jamison reaches for it as their shift comes to a close with a cruise of the Arcata Bottoms. Red and blue lights flash as a piercing siren fills the air.
“One of the other volunteers lives out here. Maybe we’ll wake him up,” Jamison remarked.
“I think it’s pretty clear,” Stodder said, “I’m actually the hardcore one in this tandem.”