Earlier this year, ten new graduates of the County’s Law Enforcement Assist Team were sworn in by SCC Justice of the Peace Emilio Velasquez at a ceremony in Nogales. Numerous Sheriff’s Office employees trained the volunteers. Special recognition was awarded to Detectives Joe Bunting and Lluvia Garcia who led the classroom training.
Five of the ten new volunteer deputies are from Eastern SCC: Richard Cardillo, Kevin Wilusz and Robert Munger from Sonoita Douglas Snow from Elgin, and Jeff Buchanan from Patagonia.
The program, established in 2001, was the second of its kind in Arizona. It is administered by Commander Geraldo Castillo of the SCC Sheriff’s Office who said there are now a total of 18 active volunteers across the county.
The new graduates completed over 100 hours of hands-on and classroom training, including firearms and taser qualifications, drug identification, public assistance, community policing, securing a crime scene, liability, preserving evidence and more.
Following graduation, volunteers ride along with county deputies on patrol, sit with 911 operators, and are exposed to the jail and prisoner transportation. A total of 16 volunteer hours per month are required by each participant to remain active in the program. Several were already accruing hours helping with evacuations during the recent San Rafael Fire.
Other assignments include welfare checks, security checks on houses when residents are away and request the free service, community outreach and business visits, traffic control at public events, investigating home and business alarm calls, traffic collisions on private property, and preserving evidence at crime scenes. Many volunteers also serve on the County’s Search and Rescue Team.
Recent graduate, retired Army General Jeff Buchanan said he volunteered because, “Service to others is part of my identity, a way to continue to make a difference and more importantly, serve my own community.” Buchanan learned from Sheriff Hathaway that District 3 is geographically the largest in all of SCC and due to a low density of officers, volunteers are critical to fill the gap. He also noted that his military experience was a plus, but combat training has a different purpose, so it was useful to learn new techniques like how to deescalate a potentially violent situation.
Richard Cardillo, a new member of the team said, “In the 17 years I have lived in Sonoita, we have never been overly populated with deputies, and responses can take an hour or more,” adding that based on population, there is a higher need for more deputies in western SCC. With a background in civilian and military law enforcement and Border Patrol, Cardillo said, “I felt my experience would add to the program and better serve this part of the county.” He added, “You can’t just take from the community, you have to give back and this is my way of giving back.” Cardillo hopes to deter criminal activity and give the community a better sense of safety and security.
The most important quality for volunteers is the desire to serve, according to Commander Castillo. “They will also have to pass a background check and polygraph test for a clean record. Everyone who volunteers can contribute regardless of their background,” he added. He explained that it was an eye-opener to have so many dedicated volunteers with a strong desire to serve and coming from so many different walks of life.
“I love this program because it satisfies the volunteers, the communities, and the Sheriff’s Office,” Castillo said. “They will serve as eyes and ears for the officers and the community and visibility is priceless!”
The five new law enforcement assist team members residing in eastern SCC currently share one Sheriff’s Office vehicle. More vehicles will be available as the inventory ramps up. For additional information on this program, contact Commander Castillo with the SCC Sheriff’s Office at 520 761-7869.