La Habra Police Department’s Radio Patrol isn’t your typical volunteer job

By Rebecca D’Auria

Though La Habra’s Radio Patrol Unit consists of volunteers, its seven members are far from inexperienced; in fact, some have worked at the department for almost 30 years.

The unsworn unit serves as an extra set of eyes and ears for the La Habra Police Department.

“It’s a small group, but a good group,” said Sergeant Jim Tigner, Radio Patrol Unit supervisor. “They’re willing to serve and do whatever needs to be done.”

La Habra Police Department Radio Patrol Volunteers Steve Hopple, left, Jose Valdivia, Tony Ciaramitaro, and Fred Milam talk about their value at the La Habra Police Department.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Despite the position being voluntary, obtaining the job is far from easy.

“We’re really picky here,” said John Madsen, who has been in the unit for over 5 years. “We want to make sure that they’re going to uphold the trust that we’ve built here with the department.”

Potential Radio Patrol Unit volunteers must submit an application and pass a background check. After that, the applicant will be evaluated by a senior Radio Patrol Unit member and by Tigner before the person becomes part of the team.

Even then, a new volunteer will train for about a year before receiving their badge.

“We don’t just hand them out,” said Fred Milam, who has been a Radio Patrol Unit volunteer for over 28 years. “That’s earned and we’re very protective of it.”

It took the newest member, Tony Ciaramitaro, almost 2 years to receive his badge.

The reason the group operates this way is because they are representatives of both the community and the

department. Not to mention, the volunteers have access to marked city vehicles.

The Radio Patrol Unit works alongside police officers to assist in DUI checkpoints, events, and traffic controls. Their duties also include patrolling neighborhoods and conducting city-wide vacation checks.

La Habra’s Vacation Check program was created for residents who will be away from their home for an extended period of time.

The Radio Patrol Unit will perform periodic visual inspections of homes for residents who submit a vacation check form. If they notice anything strange or out of place (for example: open windows, unlocked doors, or unlisted cars in the home’s driveway) they will report it by radio and an officer will come clear and re-secure the home.

These vacation checks can be very useful in preventing crime due to the fact that the volunteers can catch an open door or unlocked window before an intruder does.

“The people in the city really appreciate what we do,” said Steve Hopple, who has worked in Radio Patrol for over 15 years.

Ted Singer, who has also been with the Radio Patrol Unit for 15 years, noticed an unlocked back door at one home every time he checked the house. Singer called the homeowner to inform him that one of the house keepers or house sitters was leaving the door unlocked. The next day, all the doors were locked when he checked the house.

“When you go behind a house… and a door opens, you get this warm, sinking feeling,” said Hopple.

The Radio Patrol Unit has come across everything from intruders to unlocked doors and even to unaccounted-for dogs left in the homes.

La Habra Police Corporal Paul McPhillips, left, and Sgt. Jim Tigner, right, with Radio Patrol Volunteers (in blue) Alan Nisle, John Madsen, Fred Milam, and Steve Hopple.
Photo provided by the La Habra Police Department

Though the job can be dangerous at times, members of the Radio Patrol Unit are truly passionate about what they do.

“It’s my city and I want to protect it,” Singer said. “So anytime I can help I feel honored to do so.”

The volunteers say their work has generated a lot of respect from the officers. When Madsen walks down the halls at the department, officers always are welcoming and will stop to talk to him, he said.

“I can’t believe the amount of respect that I have been treated with,” Madsen said. “It’s amazing.”

The group’s bond goes beyond their time spent at work.

Milam’s wife, George Anne, was also a member of the Radio Patrol Unit. When he called the department for help the day she passed, officers arrived quickly. Milam said members of the La Habra Police Department as well as the community attended her funeral.

“It’s brought us closer together,” Milam said.

In addition to the close relationships formed within the unit, the volunteers’ favorite part of the job is serving the community they love.

“It’s an honor and privilege to wear a La Habra Police Department [volunteer] uniform,” Singer said. “It means we are all in this together.”