OAKLAND -- California Highway Patrol officers have many functions. These include issuing traffic citations, aiding stranded motorists, sorting out traffic accidents and doing their overall best to keep freeways flowing as smoothly as possible. Still, there's much more than meets the public eye, as those who volunteer in the CHP's Oakland office soon discover.
Among other tasks, volunteers input data from traffic accident reports, look up arrest records and answer numerous phone calls. Add to this the day-to-day foot traffic that comes through the doors, and one gets the picture of how busy a CHP office can get.
This is most especially true of the Telegraph Avenue office.
"The paid staff is swamped with a lot of work," said volunteer Esther Fong, an Oakland resident who assists those regular staffers in the office.
"I work with Matt (senior lead volunteer Matt Lifschiz) entering the information from accident reports into the (computer) system. Insurance companies have a lot of requests for accident reports, and when the DMV wants arrest records, I handle that also. There's a lot of paperwork. I think it's one of the busiest offices in the area."
Lifschiz, a Piedmont resident who has worked at the Oakland office since the volunteer program started in 2007, knows the drill well.
"Twice a week, I enter accident reports into the computer," he said. "There's roughly 10 accidents a day."
Fong and Lifschiz are a part of a senior volunteer staff (55 years and older) in the Telegraph Avenue office. Most, if not all, have retired from regular careers.
Fong, retired for a decade from Holy Names University (formerly Holy Names College) began volunteering nearly four years ago. She currently works two days a week, three hours per day. Her husband, Daniel Fong, a retired design engineer, also volunteers.
"We got into this because a friend of ours was a volunteer and he talked us into it," Esther Fong said.
And not all the assignments involve office work. Daniel Fong, for instance, checks that all the patrol car medical kits are fully stocked.
Another aspect of the work involves public outreach and education, including driver safety courses for teens and seniors.
"We do some senior driver training, 'Age Well, Drive Smart,' which we do at senior centers," Lifschiz said.
"We recently did one (at the Mastick Senior Center) in Alameda. It's about a 2½-to-3-hour program telling older folks what to look out for -- common-sense stuff, but things you don't think about."
As a valued senior volunteer, Lifschiz also coordinates the work of some fellow volunteers while spending six hours a week at the office.
Lifschiz first heard about the volunteer program in a newspaper article.
"I just showed up," said Lifschiz, a retired human resources professional. "When you retire, you find things to do."
Michael Libbey, of Oakland, who previously worked in newspapers before going on to media relations with Chevron, also found something to do by volunteering at the CHP office.
"I did the police beat, I did the courts," said Libbey, a former journalist with the Hayward Daily Review and Oakland Tribune.
"I wanted to do something where the action was. I was looking around on the Internet and found out about the CHP volunteer program. That appealed to me."
Though receiving no pay, the work has its own rewards.
"The officers are just one fine group of men and women," Lifschiz said. "They are polite and well trained."
"It's fun work, and I have a lot of respect for the people who work here," Libbey added.
"They're very appreciative of what we do."
The CHP is constantly on the lookout for volunteers, as the Oakland office currently faces a shortage.
Candidates must be 55 or older, pass a full background investigation, be able to volunteer during office hours, work with minimal supervision and must buy the required uniform (about $125). Those interested should contact Matt Lifschiz on Monday or Wednesday mornings at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 510-450-3821.