By Liz Best
They are the unsung heroes of Delray Beach — a team of volunteers, some 400 strong, who last year alone donated a staggering 42,000 hours of the time working for the Delray Beach Police Department.
Problem is, they have an identity crisis.
“You’d be surprised. There are a lot of people who don’t know what we do,” said Volunteer Major Bernard Zaretsky, co-coordinator of the department’s volunteer program.
His partner, Volunteer Major Martin Tencer, also co-coordinator of the program, agrees.
“There are even officers who don’t know what we do,” Tencer said.
Well, what they do is remarkable and has been repeatedly recognized for its excellence around the country and around the world. And the best part is, there’s something for everyone.
If you enjoy office work, there’s plenty of paperwork and computer work that must be completed. Are you a people person? Consider joining one of the patrols — volunteers patrol downtown in cars, golf carts and on foot. Parking enforcement detail is another good way to meet people (and to ruin other people’s days).
Last year alone, volunteers wrote parking tickets to the tune of more than $500,000 in revenue.
Overall, the volunteer program has 20 divisions. They have won too many national awards to list and have been featured on all three major television networks as well as on CNN, the BBC and in Time magazine. They were also awarded the 2008 Excellence in Law Enforcement Volunteer Programs by the International Chiefs of Police.
That simply means they are one of the best law enforcement volunteer programs in the world.
Tencer, 75 and a retired auto dealership owner, and Zaretsky, 79 and a retired aerospace engineer, appreciate the recognition, but don’t really have time to rest on their laurels. Both of them consider their volunteer duties to be a full-time job and they are always looking for ways to improve and expand the program.
Recently, the volunteer marine patrol was dismantled due to departmental budget cuts, said Tencer, adding that he is determined to re-establish it. It would help if a local angel would step up to the plate and donate a boat and fuel, he added.
Public Information Officer for Delray Beach Police, Sgt. Nicole Guerrero, can vouch for the level of devotion she sees from both the majors as well as their force of volunteers.
“They’re amazing. They do so much for the Police Department and the community and expect nothing in return, including a salary,” she said.
While the bulk of volunteers are retirees from all walks of life, the program attracts volunteers as young as 20 and as old as 90.
Volunteer Scott Westall, a 69-year-old retired business owner, started working for the program two years ago. He donates four hours a day, five days a week to the parking enforcement detail.
He chose parking enforcement because of the opportunity to get out in the community. As he roves around in his department-issued golf cart writing parking tickets, he also has a chance to meet people and help point out Delray’s finest features to tourists.
“I really like people and while I’m riding around I get to help tourists find their way around town and even tell them where to get a good hamburger,” said Westall.
Tencer and Zaretsky can’t say for sure why theirs is one of the best law enforcement volunteer programs in the world but they believe it has something to do with both the place and the people.
“Delray is a great city and it has a lot to offer,” said Zaretsky, adding that the program has a lot to offer people looking to contribute to the community. “Whatever it is you’d like to do, we’ll find something.”
Tencer gives a lot of credit to the quality of the volunteers themselves.
“These people are just unreal,” he said. “They love what they do.”