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Careers in Reserve : Volunteers Serve--and Save--for Monterey Park

November 26, 1987|MARILYN GARATEIX | Times Staff Writer

When he isn't defending clients in Los Angeles or jetting off to Washington to advise the U. S. Sentencing Commission, attorney David Lombardero likes to trade in his business suit for a different kind of uniform.

As often as possible, he puts in a few hours as a reserve police officer in Monterey Park.

"It is a hobby that isn't frivolous," said Lombardero, 40. "It has a purpose to it."

For Liz Loya, volunteering as a reserve firefighter is a means to an end. Loya, 29, the only woman on the 54-member Monterey Park Fire Department, believes that the 72 hours a month she volunteers will help her get a job as a firefighter.

"I'll have the knowledge over the other person" who might apply for the same job, she said.

Lombardero and Loya are two of the 728 volunteers whose 71,341 donated hours helped Monterey Park save an estimated $500,000 last year and win top honors from the League of California Cities for its community volunteer program.

Monterey Park outdid 20 other California cities to win the award, which "recognizes innovative measures that result in lower costs or more effective delivery of services."

"There are volunteer programs up and down the state, but this one . . . seemed to be substantially different," said Richard Simpson, a member of the panel that reviewed the applications. The management and organization of the program in Monterey Park "serves as a model," he said.

Monterey Park cannot afford to hire a lot of people, said Barbara Hamer, co-director of the city's Community Participation Office. But volunteers, she said, "enhance and expand our services without having it become an additional burden to the taxpayers."

Interim City Manager David Bentz said he doesn't think the city could "provide the same services without them." Bentz pointed out that Monterey Park has one of the lowest tax bases and one of the lowest per-capita expenditures among San Gabriel Valley cities.

"How could we appropriate the $500,000? We just couldn't do it. It's just not there," Bentz said.

The Community Participation Office was established in 1984 at the urging of then-City Manager Lloyd de Lamas to centralize the city's burgeoning volunteer force.

Located in City Hall, the office helps recruit the reserve police officers and firefighters, clerks, translators, video technicians, animal control officers and library assistants who donate their time to the city.

"They like to be treated just like other workers," Hamer said. "People like to be recognized for what they do. Sometimes it can be just as a simple as a 'thank you for coming in.' "

Lombardero, who lives in La Canada Flintridge and works for a Los Angeles law firm, said he checked out a number of other police departments before he decided to join Monterey Park's reserves.

"The feeling I got from speaking to other officers was that it was the best," Lombardero said. "The department was willing to allow them (the reserves) to do more. I wanted a department where a reserve officer was welcome."

Lombardero started working as a reserve police officer with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department in 1969 and continued when he moved to Menlo Park to attend Stanford University Law School. When he moved to Southern California in 1977, it seemed natural to continue. He volunteers about 25 hours a month.

Lombardero is a consultant to the U. S. Sentencing Commission, which earlier this month issued comprehensive sentencing reforms in the federal judicial system. The changes toughened penalties for a wide variety of crimes.

"It (the volunteer work) has certainly given me a different perspective in general that I would not have otherwise. . . . Part of that perspective is that you realize how much suffering is involved," Lombardero said.

As a reserve officer, he said, "I've covered everything from illegal parking calls to people being shot."

Monterey Park has 71 paid officers and about 120 reserves.

"We made it . . . such that to be a reserve you have to be as good as a regular,' said Lt. Jim Burks, reserve coordinator.

Police reserves are divided into three groups: those like Lombardero, who are widely experienced in law enforcement and can perform all the duties of a regular police officer; the less experienced, who must work under the supervision of a regular officer, and those who perform non-police functions, such as clerical workers.

"We're not afraid to expand and challenge the capabilities of our reserves," Burks said.

He said Monterey Park has one of the top arrest, citation and conviction rates in the San Gabriel Valley, and "one of the reasons we are able to do this is the reserves."

The city estimates that reserves saved the Police Department $300,000 last year and increased its services by 25%.

Like the Police Department, the Fire Department has readily incorporated reserves into its regular operations.

"They've been an asset to every phase of the department," Fire Chief Allen McComb said.

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