Earlier this summer, before my family went on a brief trip, we filled out a vacation check application through the Fullerton Police website. The Vacation Check, which is open only to residences located within the geographical boundaries of the city of Fullerton, is a free program designed to assist residents who are away from their homes and have no one else checking on or staying at their residence. The program is staffed by volunteers of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), who are not armed and do not carry weapons but do have a direct line to Police Dispatch for emergencies. Volunteers for the Vacation Check wear modified police uniforms and travel in white vehicles marked with the words, “Fullerton Police Community Services.” I visited the Police Station at the end of August to interview Sergeant Eric Bridges about the Fullerton Police Vacation Check Program.
“It’s a great free program for the residents of the City,” Sergeant Bridges said. Bridges has been working for the Fullerton Police Department for 23 years and is currently assigned to the Community Services Bureau. “The program has been around for quite a while, and it has always been run by the Community Services Bureau. What we do here at the Fullerton Police Department is we have a Retired Senior Volunteer program. They are citizens who live in the City, usually retirees. The minimum age requirement is 55 and over. We ask that they put in roughly 16 hours a month of volunteer time, and with that they perform various tasks throughout the Department.”
The Fullerton Police have some volunteers who work in the traffic department. Of those volunteers, some go out into the community to enforce disabled parking, while others do traffic control. There are also volunteers who are assigned to the Police Department’s Major Accident Collision Team and park patrol. Then, they have those who work with their Vacation Check Program. Currently, the Department has about 18 volunteers in their RSVP program, and about six of them are dedicated to doing Vacation Checks.
“When the volunteers come in and start their shift, they will pull up a list of vacation checks for that day,” Sgt. Bridges said. “Depending on how many they have, it could range from as low as four to up to twenty. So, they’ll get that list, and go to a residence. They’ll pretty much observe that residence, making sure that nothing is out of place. In their normal duties, they will get out, check the house to see if the exterior gates and doors are locked, make sure that there are no broken windows, and make sure the newspapers or packages aren’t piling up; really observing anything out of the norm or anything that might suggest the resident is not at home. They’ll get out of their car, walk the perimeter, and make sure everything is okay.”
I learned that this check is particularly useful if the residence has been on the Department’s list for a week or longer, since it helps the RSVPs notice any changes. For example, a team of police volunteers may check the house and find nothing wrong. However, on their next visit, they may find that a gate or door is open. This may raise suspicion or a red flag if they remember that when they were there a couple of days ago, the gate or door was closed. In instances where unarmed volunteers encounter something suspicious, they are trained to get in touch with Police Dispatch, according to Sgt. Bridges. So, they will either call the disturbance in on their cell phone or, since they are also equipped with Police radios, get on the radio and contact the station directly. Dispatch will then get an officer to respond to the house.
“It doesn’t happen often, but it does. In fact, we just had an incident a month or two ago,” Sgt. Bridges said. “Our RSVPs were checking a residence, and as they pulled up to the residence, they saw an individual inside. Well, they checked their sheet, and on the actual print out, it said that nobody was supposed to be inside the house. Sometimes when people go on vacation, they will have someone check on their house. But in our application, we ask residents to list names of people who might be coming by or people who have keys to the house, so that way, our volunteers will know. Well, on this particular residence, there was nobody listed. In fact, it said nobody should be in the house. So, the RSVPs did exactly what they were supposed to do, what they were trained to do. They contacted Dispatch, and Dispatch sent two officers out. The officers made contact with the individual inside, and found out that it was a family member. It was okay for the family member to be there; it just wasn’t noted on the sheet. In this instance, the Vacation Check did what it was supposed to do. Our volunteers saw somebody who they weren’t sure about, were unsure if this person was supposed to be in the house, called the officers, and the officers came down and figured everything out.”
According to Sgt. Bridges, the busier months for the program are the summer months because families are more likely to go out of town when children are out of school. It is not uncommon in the months of June, July, and August for retired volunteers to get about 20 addresses on their vacation check list, while they may have eight to nine addresses to check in the slower months. In the summer, on average, Fullerton residents ask for their homes to be checked for two to three weeks. In the slower months, the average vacation time is closer to a week. The program allows a vacation check for a maximum of four months.
“We have repeat customers for the Vacation Check program, but in addition, we have other residents who are just finding out about it,” he said. “I just had a request in the last couple of weeks. A lady who was going on vacation called in and she had no idea that the vacation check program was available. She was ecstatic when she found out how easy it was to sign up for it.” I asked Sgt. Bridges what tips he might have for keeping a home safe while on vacation. He said, “The first tip is to go on the Police website and apply for a vacation check so that we can get your address on our list. In addition to that, we like visibility. So, when you are gone, if you have lights, you should put them on a timer. Visibility is always great. We don’t necessarily like to see dark or poorly lit houses. It creates more opportunity for bad guys, so lighting is essential; lighting is key.”
The Police also suggest talking to your neighbors before you leave. Sgt. Bridges said that it’s good to let your neighbors know so that they can at least keep an eye on the house. “We don’t like to see mail, newspapers, or packages or deliveries pile up in front of houses,” he said. “When the packages pile up, it invites what we call ‘porch pirates,’ but it also lets people know that somebody may not be home at the time. So, if you can either delay deliveries, or if you have a delivery that you know if coming in, contact a friend or a neighbor to let them know to look out for it. With mail service, we would recommend contacting the post office and suspending the mail service for the duration of the vacation.”
For more information on how to have a safe vacation, I recommend visiting the Fullerton Police website, clicking on the “Information” tab at the top of the site, then clicking on “Vacation Safety” in the sub-page menu. To request a Vacation Check, Sgt. Bridges recommends filling out the online Vacation Check Application form underneath the Vacation Safety section of the website. According to the Fullerton Police, “An email will be sent to you, letting you know when your check has been approved.” If there are problems with the website link or the form, you may also call the Fullerton Police Department at (714) 738-6779 for help with the application.
Here’s a link to my video interview with Sgt. Eric Bridges about the FPD Vacation Check program: https://youtu.be/
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