Meet Dimitri Kermani, a devoted volunteer for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department and the first volunteer ever to receive the ADL’s prestigious Sherwood prize for individuals in law enforcement who have gone above and beyond to combat hate.
How did it feel to be the first volunteer ever to receive the ADL’s Sherwood prize?
I am humbled, feel appreciated and respected. As volunteers we are civilians giving time to help our community and not employees of LASD. The person who nominated me for the award was Captain Moulder who holds the highest position on a station level. To have that kind of recognition initiated by the highest ranking member of our station is a tremendous honor and a reminder of how grateful WEHO sheriff is for the work we do as civilian volunteers. There were nominees for this award from all over Southern California and it was because of the willingness of WEHO sheriff to listen to and work with me that I was able to get the award. It was a team effort but shows the impact these types of volunteer programs can have on law enforcement and community. I’m hoping it serves as motivation for others to join.
Can you tell us more about the volunteer program at WeHo sheriff and its significance within the community?
So the volunteers serve various roles within LASD WHD. We vary in age with volunteers in their early 20’s extending up to individuals in their 70’s. For many, serving at the front desk is their purpose. They are the first contact between community and law enforcement and serve as a bridge between community and deputies. As volunteers we collect information from individuals coming to obtain police reports and provide basic information to deputies, help individuals with forms, and are sometimes simply an ear for those who need to vent and be heard. Volunteers are also able to train under a program called volunteers on patrol. Volunteers undergo extensive training on police code, driving volunteer marked vehicles, radio usage, and things to look out for on the streets. Upon completion of the program volunteers go out and patrol the community with direct communication with dispatch. It allows community members to essentially be the eyes and ears of the streets. There are certain types of calls volunteers are able to respond to as well to assist deputies and occasionally fire. Volunteers also have the option to join cert and many times end up being team leaders due to extensive experience in disaster response and radio comms. Volunteers can also serve as clergy, do business and elderly checks, vacation checks, work with detectives and more. It allows individuals to understand law enforcement from behind closed doors but requires a high level of confidentiality.
What inspired you to become a volunteer at WEHO sheriff, and how has your role evolved over the past 4.5 years?
It has evolved tremendously. I started off at the front desk doing mostly paperwork and taking information down for deputies so they could write reports. Over the course of the last few years I developed strong relationships with our senior level officers. They have always held an open door policy for volunteers to share ideas, thoughts, and concerns. We are truly heard by leadership at the station and held in high regard by everyone at WHD. They understand we are giving our time to help. Because of this I’ve transitioned into more of a role where I work with senior staff in bridging the gap between community and law enforcement. It’s been incredibly successful. I’m currently working on the CERT train the trainer program so that I will be able to have all volunteers trained in CERT by next year. I’m also working on developing a program for LASD where we can incorporate neighborhood watch programs into the volunteer program somehow.
Could you share some specific examples of how the volunteer program has helped improve policing and community safety in WEHO?
Well there are many examples of volunteers seeing something suspicious which has lead to lives being saved, arrests, etc. The VOP (volunteers on patrol) program also acts as eyes and ears on the ground. Look at us as an unpaid block by block serving our own community. A big difference is we have LASD radios so we can communicate directly with dispatch. It is a tremendous time saver in terms of police response. We provide significant relief for deputies by working the front desk and starting the collection of report information. It also allows victims to feel safe when they walk into the station as the first person they see is unarmed and in a noticeably different uniform from the deputies. Because of the leadership Captain Moulder, Lieutenant Lapkin and Sgt. Duron we are given freedom to give our own perspectives and encouraged to speak during briefings. It gives insight to the deputies and allows them to better understand our community.
You mentioned coordinating responses with outside volunteer agencies to locate missing victims. Can you elaborate on this process and the impact it has had?
So I think one of the most incredible examples happened a few years ago. We had a missing elderly Jewish lady with dementia. One of our deputies, Eliel Teixeira, remembered I had some friends who were members of a volunteer Jewish ambulance corps called Hatzalah. He asked if we could get some volunteers to assist with a grid search. Within 1 hour we had over 50 volunteers. The lady was ultimately found by a deputy that evening but the help was tremendous in that it allowed us to cover incredible amounts of the city in a quick manner. It has also allowed us to start the process in studying the possibility of incorporating a volunteer urban search and rescue team in WEHO – something I’m currently working on.
What role did you play in developing the successful dialog with a deputy program, and how has it benefited the community?
So Dialog Cafe happens to be one of my tenants. I have a very strong relationship with Tadeh Ghazalian who owns dialog cafe. Knowing how generous and willing Tad is when it comes with to offering his space for community events, I approached him with the idea of rebranding coffee with a cop to dialog with a deputy and hosting multiple annual events there. Without hesitation Tad offered up his space whenever we needed it. I realized the response was going to be pretty significant and so I went to captain moulder and deputy chris Chung who I developed D with a deputy with and had this idea… why not create catered dialog with a deputy events and focus on different groups from within the community who have unique and specific needs and concerns. So we’ve now started focusing on various groups like the lgbtq+ community which was the topic of our last event. We also plan on having DWAD for the Jewish community, east side residents, neighborhood watch and more! Even tho they’re targeted events everyone is invited to participate and get to meet their deputies and leadership face to face.
In what ways do community members working with the police achieve more than hiring outside “security”? Can you provide some examples?
1. We’re members of the community. We understand the needs and concerns of the community we serve because we’re a part of it. We live and breathe it. Most WEHO residents don’t know that our station is more diverse than the city of WEHO itself. This includes our volunteer program which has members of different races, religions and sexual orientation. Many of the challenges faced by members of WEHO have also been faced by our volunteers. They can empathize. When we participate in events like pride, Halloween, etc it’s not just as volunteers with LASD but also as members marching for our own community.
2. Direct line of communication. We are all assigned radios, a call sign, and instructions. We can communicate with dispatch directly instead of having to call 911 and risk delays. Additionally, we are trained in police code and what constitutes a crime and the type of crime. We have access to police briefings and know what the immediate concerns are and what to look out for. The deputies know us and consider us as one of their own. They have a lot of faith and trust established in us. We all go thru an extensive background check and are very credible witnesses.
3. We’re patrolling our own city. We know the streets, the locals, venues, etc. We can establish rapport much more easily and there is a level of trust the public has with us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone cry in my arms.
How can the council better understand the impact of the volunteer program and why it’s important to invest in community members who understand the city’s demographic makeup?
The war with LASD has to end. I would offer myself and have in the past to speak in front of council. I would even encourage council to have a round table discussion with volunteers. We don’t have any funding and are responsible for our own equipment. It makes it challenging to grow the program. I’m not personally a member of the lgbtq community but have many many friends who are including some of my closest friends. I have laughed with them, cried with them, marched with them, etc.
You can’t have community policing without the participation of community. It starts with council having a willingness to take time to fully understand the consequences of the program, the millions of dollars saved by LASD as a whole due to the volunteer program, etc.
If council understood the needs of the volunteer program we could really build something special. I respect all our council members and consider some personal friends. We agree on things and disagree on others but it does not impact the respect I have for them nor friendship. It’s ok to disagree but we need to engage in dialog.
The citizens police academy was eye opening for me. It would have been really beneficial to have members of council go thru the program and understand things from a law enforcement perspective. It was so impactful that a few graduates signed up to become volunteers afterwards. These were individuals who were very much questioning police prior to the academy. Happy to elaborate further.
What are some future goals or initiatives you have in mind for the volunteer program at WEHO sheriff?
1. I want to bring in more volunteers and expand the scope of our work. It does require the participation of the community and council. We do not have any form of budget. We need new vehicles and computers among other items. I am working to get all volunteers BLS certified, cert certified, and more. I’m personally narcan and epi auto injector certified as well as bls and acls. We need the city to provide us funds to make this happen.
2. I am hoping to develop a USAR (urban search and rescue) team in WEHO. Unfortunately we are severely understaffed. BHPD has over 4.5 officers per thousand residents. We’re at 1.2 per thousand if I remember correctly. They have a budged of over 80 million per year and we’re at under 30. We need volunteers to help relieve the deputies.
3. Finding a way to incorporate neighborhood watch into the volunteer program. I have a million more ideas but there’s only one of me and we definitely need funds. I toured Malibu lost hills station which is now under the leadership of captain Jen Seetoo. Seetoo was our former ops lieutenant and an amazing human being. I was able to understand their volunteer program and hope to mimic it in WEHO.
How has receiving the Sherwood prize motivated you to continue your efforts in combating hate and improving community safety?
So the day before the event I got a call from Sheriff Luna. Sheriff Luna had called to personally congratulate me on the award and apologize for not being able to attend the event. Unfortunately the event was scheduled the same week as the national law enforcement memorial in DC which is where the sheriff is. The big surprise was when I arrived to the event and saw undersheriff April tardy there. We didn’t get a chance to speak prior to the ceremony but afterwards Undersheriff Tardy came looking for me and ran up to me with an enormous embrace. Her first words were Joe proud she was to have someone like me representing the station and how proud she and all of LASD are for my work. I was incredibly moved, touched and honored she was there. When the largest sheriffs department in the country sends their second in command for an award going to a volunteer it makes you feel appreciated, respected, and valued. That only pushes me to want to do more. I don’t do my work for the recognition but recognition is always motivation to continue your work. Hate still does and always will exist but I believe there is more good than hate in the world. If each good person took the time to speak with one hateful person and change their perspective we would be living in a much better world. Instead we focus on the things that divide us. I want to continue changing perspectives and building understanding. I will always continue the fight for equality and serve to create a better world for future generations.
I think he has a great idea..city council member should at least ride with the sheriffs for at least a couple of nights. Let them see the real world and what the sheriffs have to deal with and how they keep us safe. It would certainly be an eye opener for them.
Well done. Great job! Thank you.
[…] Dimitri Kermani, the first volunteer to ever receive the ADL’s prestigious Sherwood prize for individuals in law enforcement who have gone above and beyond to combat […]
Search and rescue sounds like a great idea.
Keep up the good work and congratulations.
They pay for an additional car and insurance??? We do? How many volunteer cars are there?
This is the type of initiative that would have been helpful with the Security Ambassadors. They failed and Dimitri received a commendation.
Congratulations Dimitri on a well-deserved honor and thank you for all your hard work on behalf of our community – & to Wehoville for highlighting this story!
Congratulations Dimitri on the award and the dedication you have to the public safety of our beautiful city.
I hope the city council takes you up on your offer to meet and discuss public safety, there is only upside and no downside to engaging in a productive and open conversation.
Bravo to Dimitri for this well-deserved honor. His commitment to service and public safety deserves respect and gratitude. His knowledge of process is enviable, and his respect for building relationships is noble.
I hope council is willing to take him up in his offer.