Lost Hills Station Volunteer Earns Honors for Years of Dedicated Service.

Lost Hills Station Volunteer Earns Honors for Years of Dedicated Service.

In honor of National Volunteer Week, a local man has been recognized for his extraordinary service to Malibu. Malibu City Council last Monday gave Mark Russo a commendation for his leadership of Volunteers on Patrol (VOP).

Russo has dedicated thousands of hours of service to the community through the VOP program and, due to his commitment and passion, is being described as “an amazing man” doing “indispensable” work for Malibu. All this while raising two teens and maintaining a career.

The VOPs form an unpaid volunteer group, under the auspices of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, is dedicated to community-based patrol and was instrumental in helping to keep peace and safety, especially during the Woolsey Fire and extended evacuations. Russo was honored for his eight years as team leader.

In just nine years as a Malibu resident, Russo has been instrumental in elevating the VOP team to the level it is now.

“They are just indispensable to this city in terms of assisting our sheriff’s department like a force multiplier, especially if there’s any kind of traffic accident,” according to Malibu Public Safety Manager Susan Dueñas. “They can go out and do traffic control, which frees up the deputies to do things that are more technical. They help us with parking enforcement, which brings in a significant amount of revenue to the city. They help us with general management of crowds at pubic events.

“Essentially, they are just a huge resource,” she continued. “They’re all community members and familiar with the different areas of Malibu and so are a real asset to the sheriff’s department, especially if they’re working with a deputy that’s new to the area. They were super instrumental during the Woolsey Fire, doing welfare checks on people and assisting with traffic control.”

Russo, Dueñas added, put in a whopping 450 hours during Woolsey alone.

Russo actually received two awards last week—the other from the LASD in reaching a milestone of 5,000 hours of community service as a VOP. And this wasn’t his first time being honored by the LASD. In 2015, he was singled out as volunteer of the year at the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station.

Russo explained his dedication, saying, “Everybody looks for their sweet spot in helping people out. Some people gravitate to the CERT program, some to Arson Watch, some in other ways.

“What I really like about VOP is it’s a very proactive type of program,” the volunteer continued. “The training is fantastic and they really put you in front of the community. It’s the essence of community-based policing, because you’re out there in uniform, in a sheriff’s car and you’re responding to a lot of situations where the help of the sheriff’s department and the fire department is actually needed.”

Russo also described the culture of the VOPs.

“You’re working with a great group of people—responding and patrolling neighborhoods,” he said. “You get a sense of the community. You get to know these people very well. Sometimes deputies rely on the resident VOPs for particulars they are otherwise unfamiliar with. They know we’re out here every day, every week. We’re embedded in the community. Most of us live here.”

Russo generally puts in 10 to 20 hours a week with VOP, in addition to his career work in management and, importantly, being a “full-time dad” to two teenagers.

The volunteer group is looking for recruits and Russo explained a little about it.

“The minimum requirement for team members is 16 hours a month,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s a perishable skill. If you don’t do this on a somewhat consistent basis you’re going to forget things. The reality is, a lot of times, we just happen to be the first responders. Geographically, we’re there. When we roll up on a traffic collision or some kind of incident we have to know what to do.”

The VOP program is an important arm of the LASD and much appreciated by its new Malibu liaison.

“I can’t say enough about Mark and his dedication and love for the community,” said Lt. Jennifer Seetoo. “Mark and I speak nearly every day about Malibu, from traffic issues to community outreach. Any time I need extra help, Mark always volunteers. He is an amazing man with a compassionate heart.”

For his part, the VOP leader hopes more residents become interested in serving as volunteers on patrol.

“It’s a great opportunity for the citizens to not only serve their community, but work with a great bunch of people in the sheriff’s department. Go out there and make a difference. It’s an exciting opportunity for people to serve their community,” Russo encouraged.