MODESTO -- Vern Blagg is a retired truck driver who turned a short, early career with law enforcement into a volunteer mission to help people.
Rodney and Bobbie Caetano nominated Blagg for The Bee's Q&A feature: "He puts in thousands of hours a year volunteering with the Neighborhood Watch program and also the (Owner Applied Number) farm program of marking farm equipment with an identifying number so if it is stolen, it is easier to be recovered. Vern dedicates two to three days a week, sometimes more, to this endeavor."
Blagg said he does the work for a very simple reason: "I enjoy helping others and I can't think of a better way to do it than doing this through the (Stanislaus County) sheriff's office. We get to do so much to help people."
Q: As someone active in Neighborhood Watch, what kind of mistakes do you see residents making as far as home security that surprise you?
A: People leaving doors unlocked. Garage doors open when they are not home or not working in there. Gates to the back yard unlocked. Not enough outside lighting. Too many bushes around the house someone can hide behind.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the O.A.N. farm program.
A: The O.A.N. program is a nationwide program for marking farm-related equipment and tracking stolen farm-related equipment. It is a 10-digit number issued to a farmer or rancher. This number can be applied to any equipment they have, from tractors to the computers in the office.
The most important thing about this program is it is free. It costs you nothing except a couple of hours of your time to show us what you want marked.
Q: How big a problem is agriculture theft in this area and how important is it to mark farm equipment?
A: Thefts from farms and ranches is a huge problem in our county and the surrounding counties. These guys will take anything that is not nailed down. The biggest thing is copper wire and scrap metal. But they will take anything they can get.
These guys do not discriminate they will break into your house, shop or barn. They will take anything they can make a dollar on. I'm not sure what can be done to combat these thieves. But I do know that neighborhood watches and farm watches do help. This involves all the neighbors watching out for each other and paying close attention to what is going on in the neighborhood.
Q: What is the single best piece of advice for someone looking to improve the safety of his or her home or farm?
A: Pay attention to your surroundings. Pay attention when you have cars driving very slowly in your neighborhood repeatedly. Report anything you think is suspicious cars or people to your local police department or sheriff's office.
Q: What advice would you offer someone looking to volunteer in the STARS (Sheriff's Team of Active Retired Seniors) program?
A: My advice would be to join. We take anyone over 21. There is an application process you have to go through. You also have to be able to pass a limited background check. If you pass all of that, you then attend a nine-week academy for volunteers. If you are really interested in helping, there are any number of things that you can do.
Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.
If you know of someone who might make a good subject for Monday Q&A, email Bee local news editor Deke Farrow at email@example.com.