Problematic Behavior or Activity
Volunteers help stretch budgets (especially in an environment of reduced resources), expand service commitments, and facilitate connections between agencies and the community. Police cannot be everywhere and control crime without public support and volunteer programs can play a vital role in facilitating support from the community.
More specifically, volunteer programs in policing offer benefits for those volunteering, the community, and the law enforcement agency. Numerous studies show benefits of volunteering, such as expanding skills, job opportunities, and social networks. Older adults or retirees especially benefit from volunteer programs because such programs can help keep older adults engaged in their communities and ward off loneliness.
The law enforcement agency benefits from volunteering in a variety of ways. The agency benefits from citizen patrol functions (helping the agency gain more information from the community), expanded resources and expertise for search and rescue programs, and can help the police perform community outreach (volunteers can give presentations to the community on crime prevention). Indirect benefits may include increasing public awareness of the challenges police officers face and could help increase transparency and or trust in the agency. Volunteer programs could help identify potential future police officers and connect volunteers to full-time positions as well.
The community benefits from volunteer programs in the form of reduced labor costs (volunteers can help with administrative functions—scanning documents for instance), more crime detection or deterrence via neighborhood watch, and a more educated community as volunteers help with community outreach programs.
Volunteers in policing may do a wide variety of tasks. Auxiliary unit volunteers in Benton County, assist with community outreach projects, administrative projects, and in other capacities when their skills, talent, and interest match the needs of the sheriff’s office. Auxiliary team members in Benton County do not engage in active law enforcement activities and are not a substitute for fully trained and certified deputies. Rather, Auxiliary team members help stretch resources in a supportive role.
They have assisted with the following duties and others:
- Compiling and editing the Sheriff’s Office newsletter
- Setting up the speed trailer and doing speed surveys
- Staffing the Drug Take Back event
- Scanning booking and offender files
- Conducting customer service surveys
- Helping coordinate the sheriff’s office Citizens’ Academy
- Supporting crime prevention programs
Based on Research
Research looking at an agency in Houston, Texas was able to show that attitudes toward police and satisfaction with police were higher and more positive among volunteers in community policing programs than compared to general—non-volunteer—citizens, according to researchers Wolf, Ross, and Breyer, (see related research for citation).
No funding is necessary for the program in Benton County. The only money spent on the program has been for volunteer shirts and hats, award pins, and periodic rewards. The Auxiliary unit helped run an event that raised a small amount of money that has sustained the program’s purchase of these items for several years.
Since the program started in 2009, 23 Auxiliary volunteers have donated more than 8,400 hours, saving the community at least $100,000.
Critical Success Factors
Planning and organizing projects that volunteers enjoy was and is critical for the program’s success in Benton County.
According to program administrators in Benton County, treating volunteers well is key to success. Show volunteers that you are thankful for their services and that they are making a difference. Remember, they are doing their work for free.
Wolf, R., & Bryer, T. (2020). Applying an outcomes-based categorisation to non-warranted/non-sworn volunteers in United States policing. The Police Journal, 93(1), 42-64.