Photo: Ed Ross, a ST.A.R.S. volunteer for five years, stands in front of the truck while eight-year volunteer John Groh sits in the driver’s seat. Program leader Jennifer Edwards hangs out in the back. (Sue Daugherty/Contributor)
By design, a strong acronym will typically suggest the mission or purpose it represents. The S.T.A.R.S. of San Joaquin County is a perfect example.
The Sheriff’s Team of Active Retired Seniors (S.T.A.R.S.) program was founded in 1991. As stated in their brochure, the primary mission of the S.T.A.R.S. is to “establish, train and maintain a group of senior volunteers to assist, enhance and promote the sheriff’s effort in Crime Prevention and to accomplish other tasks and/or services as directed.”
Last year the S.T.A.R.S. team participated in 22 major community events and conducted more that 100 deliveries of specimens, records and/or evidence to the medical examiners and or California Department of Justice
“Observe and Report” is the S.T.A.R.S. motto, as the volunteers are never asked to put themselves in harm’s way. Instead, any suspicious activity or unusual circumstances they come upon, are immediately radioed to dispatch.
“The S.T.A.R.S. are truly the eyes and ears of the Sheriff’s office,” says Jennifer Edwards, the crime prevention specialist who leads the program.
“It’s an incredible way to get involved with the community and provides a much needed and valued service to the citizens of our county.”
Edwards added “you do not have to be retired to be a member of S.T.A.R.S. We require our members to be at least 50 years old with the ability to volunteer a minimum of 16 hours a month.”
In order to participate in the S.T.A.R.S. program, an application is required. Once selected, 3 full days of classroom training are required.
Edwards and Ron Green, the crime prevention program assistant, run the 24 hour long mini academy exposing participants to a variety of duties and a broad overview of the Sheriff’s office. Additionally, representatives from each division prep the volunteers with information about their units and responsibilities within the community.
“S.T.A.R.S. participants receive instruction in radio communications, crime prevention, reports, traffic control and other areas in the departments. After completing the academy, volunteers are assessed, and based on their preferences and abilities, are placed within the Sheriff’s Office,” said Edwards.
There are ample opportunities for S.T.A.R.S. to use their skills and learn new ones. They can be out it the field patrolling, representing the Sheriff at community events, or managing administrative tasks and record keeping at headquarters.
Edwards added, “In the Mobile Law Enforcement Center, volunteers can be needed day or night to assist in any emergency such as a missing persons case, crowd and traffic control, or alerting residents to an impending flood or fire.”
Last year S.T.A.R.S. were called on 19 times to provide support at major crimes scenes after normal business hours.
Another great service the S.T.A.R.S. provide our citizens is Vacations Checks. Home owners of San Joaquin County can request their home be checked while they are away. S.T.A.R.S. volunteers will be assigned to make exterior inspections and if a problem is discovered it will be reported immediately for law enforcement response.
Assisting the California Highway Patrol with Bike Builds and distributing the bikes out into the community is another service the S.T.A.R.S. team has recently supported their skills and time.
Edwards had a successful career in banking, marketing and sales, but always had a strong interest in law enforcement and had a deep respect for their role in the community. A few years ago a break in employment ended up having a silver lining. Edwards learned of an opening as an assistant to the coordinator for the S.T.A.R.S. program. Edwards applied, accepted the offer and was promoted to crime prevention specialist in 2019.
“I am thrilled to be running this program and supporting law enforcement,” Edwards said. “I think it is very important for people to understand that our volunteers go through the same rigorous background investigation by our professional standards division, as any potential candidate in law enforcement. Our requirements are very high, as the S.T.A.R.S. volunteers have access to (the department’s) property, offices and grounds.”
The property currently includes a fleet of 16 vehicles for use by the S.T.A.R.S., all of which are funded by the foundation along with vehicle maintenance, equipment, uniforms and training costs.
“We currently have a roster of approximately 45 volunteers,” Edwards said. “In the past we had up to 125 volunteers. For a variety of reasons it’s tougher recruiting for the S.T.A.R.S. Overall crime stats being higher is one. Also people are working longer to make ends meet. Many grandparents are full time guardians raising their grandchildren or heavily involved with regular care of the children.”
Edwards relayed that their office is always open to new candidates for the program.
“The important part is bringing on people that have a genuine interest in crime prevention and want to make a difference in our community. We look for dedicated flexible individuals,” Edwards said.