San Diego, California - Have you ever wondered what it would be like to volunteer with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department? 

Meet 15 County residents who volunteer in eight different units and serve their community.

There’s something for every skill set. Some people prefer to sit and work in offices. Others prefer to sit in a buggy and navigate rugged terrain.

Work gear might include a dog leash, scuba tanks, even a firearm. 

Last year, 919 people volunteered for the Sheriff’s Department and logged nearly 300,000 hours saving the department an estimated $5 million.

To learn more about opportunities, visit the Sheriff’s Volunteer page.


He worked school shootings at Santana and Granite Hills high schools in 2001 and went classroom to classroom to help evacuate students after the campuses were put into lockdown. Special Enforcement Reserve Unit Sgt. Gary O’Brien says he averages 20 to 40 hours a month in his reserve duties which he has been doing since 1989. He works alongside six other reserves and Special Enforcement Unit deputies. As a Level 1 Reserve assigned to this unit, he helps transport all equipment out to SWAT incidents and then offers support in any way needed. He is considered sworn personnel, carries a weapon and must maintain all his skills just like a regular deputy.

“It’s been a fun ride,” says Gerald Hodge, a Level 1 Reserve currently assigned to patrol duty in Poway. As a Level 1 Reserve, he can ride in a patrol car by himself and carry a weapon as long as he maintains skills that include defensive tactics, defensive driving and shooting. He has been a reserve since 1971, working basically a second career in law enforcement. For a while as a reserve volunteer, he flew for the Sheriff’s Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies doing search and rescue work, but then returned to patrol.

When deputies are involved in a shooting, they are isolated and aren’t allowed to talk to anyone, except a chaplain and their conversation is confidential, says Sheriff’s Chaplain Carey Norman. As Sheriff chaplains, they are with deputies at the worst of times such as shootings and funerals. But sometimes they also get to share their most joyful times like officiating marriages. In recent times, a deputy’s home was destroyed in a fire, and chaplains took up a collection to help his family.  Herb Smith and Norman both started working in the Sheriff’s Chaplain Unit right around the time it began in 1995. Smith is a retired San Diego Police officer who went into the seminary. Working with law enforcement officers was a natural fit for him.

In 2003, members of the Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol left their horses at home but took their horse trailers to work. They rescued at least 30 horses on the first day of the Cedar Fire, says DeAnne Erickson, the administrator for the Mounted Patrol. Erickson rides Stonecold, a 17-year-old chocolate-colored Rocky Mountain horse and together they have served more than 1,000 hours since 2002. Trisha Thomas and her 17-year-old Pinto, Lacy, have been volunteering for 3 years and usually work 15 hours a week. Scott Milner, assistant administrator for the Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol, says he and Jewels, his 9-year-old Clydesdale have been volunteering for 3 years and have put in more than 700 hours helping to deter crime in Ramona and Poway.

He takes rescues personally, because that could be your grandfather or niece out there in trouble, says Greg Magnan of Chula Vista. He is assigned to the Medical Unit for Search and Rescue and has been doing it for 15 years. “There’s nothing better than hearing over the radio that our search has been successful and our subject has been found,” says Pam Medhurst, who works with her five search-trained beagles. She has volunteers with the K-9 unit for 14 years and has given 700 hours in service. Her husband Rich Medhurst, also volunteers in the Search and Rescue Administrative Unit and rides a buggy for fast response.  He has volunteered for 13 years and has given 500 hours of service.

As members of the Sheriff’s Senior Volunteer Patrol, Rene Trevino, 59, and Paul Grant, 86, help deputies by checking on other seniors, doing vacation checks, and responding to traffic accidents and incidents to assist with perimeter control. Grant, who has been doing this work for 10 years and given 7,000 hours, says the Senior Volunteer Patrol provides important work for our older society and he recommends it to anyone who asks. Trevino says they have a deputy’s back in this role. He retired in 2010 and wanted to do something for his community. He has worked almost 3 years and given 1,000 hours.

Don’t think you can just ditch a weapon used in a crime by throwing it in a body of water because Ted Thompson, a member of the Dive Unit says his team of 17 will find it if it’s in there. The divers are working in black water, searching by braille, and have to watch out for trees and other hazards in the water, he says. Besides evidence recovery, the team also recovers bodies. In a recent drowning where three people perished, they searched for days before finding all the victims. When divers told the family all were found, the family was thankful because now they had closure.

Video: Dive Team

One of 20-year-old Chad Kelly’s most exciting assignments as a Sheriff’s sergeant In the Explorer unit happened a few years ago when fists started flying at the Fallbrook Avocado Festival. His colleagues created a blockade of Explorers to help deputies separate onlookers from the people fighting so deputies could get a handle on the situation. Kelly, 20, of Encinitas has been an Explorer for four years. Zac Fletcher, 17, of San Marcos has been volunteering with the unit for several months. He says volunteering lets him see what a career in law enforcement would be like and he really likes giving service to his community and helping people.

The Sheriff volunteers are part of a large volunteer force that supplements County employees. Last year, 29,792 volunteers provided an estimated $40 million worth of service hours.