Volunteerism and Its Role in Public Safety

Police and sheriff’s departments today are faced with the hard task to reduce budgets due to loss of revenue and other funding assistance, yet still keep pace with the demands of public safety. Because of the bleak outlook for many state and local governments throughout the nation, this loss of revenue has pushed departments to turn to more innovative approaches to sustain their needs.

Patrol is the primary role for law enforcement agencies, and the patrol officer or deputy divides this function into three distinct areas: one area is devoted to responding to calls for service; another is reserved for performing administrative duties such as appearing in court, transporting prisoners, writing reports, and performing other essential, non-critical duties; and the remaining third is devoted to community policing, directed patrol, and other related patrol needs.

Simply responding to calls for service often places a huge demand on law enforcement agencies’ resources in the effort to ensure public safety needs are fully met. Likewise, administrative duties can seriously reduce the amount of time a patrol officer actually works the patrol beat. Finally, the demands of both responding to calls and fulfilling administrative obligations can greatly diminish the amount of time a patrol officer devotes to developing community policing strategies.

In addition to limited resources and numerous responsibilities, budgetary constraints often lead to furloughs and lay-offs of sworn law enforcement personnel. Many agencies have to turn to other resources to ensure that essential, non-critical duties are still performed. One of the most beneficial and innovative approaches to maintaining patrol services is through the use of volunteers.

Volunteerism in law enforcement agencies has become an important mainstay to perform essential, non-critical duties that otherwise would have been the responsibility of patrol officers and deputies. Large and small law enforcement agencies alike have harnessed the potential that volunteers represent, by creating a partnership with the community to cover a myriad of time-consuming functions and services. Moreover, the use of volunteers has been a tremendous cost-saving measure that saves thousands of dollars every year.

To highlight the importance and value of using volunteers, the following examples demonstrate the innovative approaches taken by two departments to enhance their ability to reduce the impact of administrative patrol duties, which, in turn, provides more time to devote to community policing.

image of front of Sedona Arizona police department

Sedona Police Department, Sedona, Arizona. Photo credit: City of Sedona, sedonaaz.gov.

The Sedona (Arizona) Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Raymond Cota, works with volunteers to transport criminals to neighboring jails. Sergeant James Pott, coordinator for the Sedona Community Police Alliance Volunteer Program, manages the 10 volunteers who transport prisoners to regional facilities up to 2–3 hours away. A patrol sergeant screens the prisoners to ensure that they do not resist arrest or exhibit violent tendencies. Volunteers undertake transportations in two-person teams, and their security is maintained as officer personnel transport prisoners in and out of detention through a secure holding cell within the vehicles. Volunteers have no contact with prisoners and are provided radios to communicate with dispatch should the need arise.

“Our volunteers have assisted in over 400 transportations to date and have saved Sedona Police Department over $74,000 in overtime expenses this year alone, at a time when resources are at an all time low,” said Sergeant Pott.

The program has been so successful that the volunteer program now also transports screened juveniles and prisoners resulting from arrests by a regional drug taskforce, thereby supporting other police departments and associated criminal justice agencies. Of the 10 incredible volunteers who underwent comprehensive training to undertake transportations, two teams are married couples. Sergeant Pott captured their contribution eloquently: “These volunteers save us time, resources, and money; without them we would be unable to provide the level of service to neighborhoods that the community has come to expect.”

In Hemet, California, Chief David Brown has a powerful resource in a volunteer program that has been active for over two decades. With a volunteer corps outnumbering sworn officers, this dedicated band of residents has developed into a powerful force multiplier to support essential public safety initiatives taking place in the area.

image of hemet california police department volunteers standing in front of patrol car

Hemet Police Department Volunteer Fleet Expansion. Photo credit: City of Hemet, cityofhemet.org.

One unique example of their important work is a vehicle maintenance program. Although officially overseen by the community service sergeant, volunteers independently organize and track vehicle maintenance for over 100 police vehicles a year. From patrol bikes to mobile command centers, volunteers not only drive all vehicles to the city-endorsed maintenance shop for quarterly tune ups but also coordinate transporting take home vehicles to and from officers’ homes and the delivery of back-up cars. This service eliminates downtime for officers and ensures the effective and efficient use of the patrol fleet.

“The vehicle maintenance program is a huge example of time and resources saved,” remarked Chief Brown. “On average, the vehicle maintenance program saves Hemet an hour and a half of downtime per officer or $75 per trip, a tremendous savings to a cash-strapped agency.” However, it’s the personal pride that volunteers take in patrol vehicles that has impressed Chief Brown. “Patrol vehicles are kept in a storage area next to the station. Every car is parked perfectly parallel, and the fleet is kept in pristine condition. This attention to detail is indicative of our volunteers unwavering commitment to our department and their community.”

Like these two law enforcement agencies, there are thousands more throughout the nation that also use volunteers in various capacities to augment their delivery of police services. Moreover, the savings isn’t just in the budget; the increased presence of the patrol officer on the street saves the community money and, more importantly, lives.

In these austere times, when everyone is being asked to do their part, it is important to remember that volunteers in police service contribute to the efforts of law enforcement to reduce crime and the fear of crime, thus enhancing the community’s quality of life.

For more information on how to start a volunteer program in your community, please visit the following website: http://policevolunteers.org/

George Gibmeyer
Lead Grant Monitoring Specialist
The COPS Office

Lydia Nylander
Grant Monitoring Specialist
The COPS Office

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