Volunteer Police Programs 101

Written by Retired Lt. Ricky Rhodes of Tigard PD/FBINAA #220

Volunteer Police Program

Half of all US departments employ fewer than 10 officers and 87% of all local and state police agencies have 49 or fewer officers.

Did you know that half of all US departments employ fewer than 10 officers… and that 87% of all local and state police agencies have 49 or fewer officers? This means that most of you are responding to thousands of calls each year with minimal resources and are often left shorthanded when staff call in sick, require training, or go on vacation.

With a limited budget, you can’t just hire more officers, you have to think of new ways to tackle this problem. How about starting a Volunteer Police Program?

Volunteer police have been part of western policing since the concept of police began. As of 2011, over 2,180 Law Enforcement agencies have embraced using volunteer police. That’s over 244,000 volunteers nationwide. These volunteers help provide financial, personnel and strategic benefits to their police departments.

Volunteer Police Program

Volunteers can help in so many ways.

They can help in dealing with low-level offenses and allow sworn officers to focus on more pressing crimes and more violent criminals. They can help build a strong community connection. Just by virtue of having a volunteer police program, there is greater community participation in the policing process. They can help raise awareness for police goals and tasks, which empowers the communities to help out in any way they can.

Volunteer groups were even able to raise additional funding for their departments, which allowed them to purchase specialized equipment they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. Volunteer police help bring the police department and the community closer together, and empower the community to help take care of itself.

Tasks that a volunteer police force could help with are:

  • Respond to calls that do not require a sworn officer
  • Admin, database management
  • Traffic control
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Animal control
  • IT support
  • Crowd control
  • Assist if a resident is reported as missing

E.g. In Kansas City the Chief relies on two volunteers to assist with enforcing residential code. These volunteers can write notices for abandoned cars, excessive trash, overgrown weeds, and other things that the city deems as damaged or in disrepair.

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There should be structured training program in place for your volunteers. This will help them work effectively with your sworn officers, and maximise their contributions to the community.

For example, in Brookings County, SD, volunteers are put through 40 hours of in-service training and 12 hours of patrol training prior to being put on the patrol schedule.

The training should cover as much as possible, within reason. Some good areas to focus on are:

  • Safety on the job
  • Expectations
  • Report writing
  • First Aid
  • Radio operations
  • Traffic control
  • How to handle minor vandalism, motor vehicle accidents, and any other common occurrences

Once volunteers have completed their training, they should be paired with an officer and given some sort of vest or uniform that identifies them clearly as a volunteer officer.

Tips for Volunteer Police

Make the Most of Your Program

Once your volunteer program is established make the most of it by conducting evaluations, and collecting feedback and surveys from your volunteers which will help strengthen the relationship with them. They will feel like a valued part of the department, and you will ensure that solid lines of communication stay open.

Lastly, don’t miss the opportunity to collect data on the entire program. Keep track of the number of volunteers, the total hours worked by them, the service outcomes and review these on an annual basis to see how the program as a whole is working.

About Retired Lt. Ricky Rhodes

Ret. Lt. Ricky Rhodes

Ricky has over 30 years of experience serving in the police force and is an active member of the FBINAA community, so lets just say he may know a thing or two. Currently he works at InTime helping police departments solve their complex scheduling requirements.