Lessons learned from volunteers as force multipliers www.officer.com/article/article.jsp?siteSection=3&id=29822
Updated: April 14th, 2006 11:03 AM EDT
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Volunteers in Law Enforcement Contributor
The year is 2002 in a high school ninth grade history class somewhere in America. The teacher asks, “Who can tell me who the Minutemen were?” to which multiple students raise their hands and talk about the Minutemen as patriotic citizens during the Revolutionary War that stepped up to help defend our nation. Fast forward to the year 2040, same setting, same question but this time a student responds, “Mrs. Applebee, do you mean the Minutemen of the Revolutionary War or the Minutemen of 2005 ?”
With the recent House and Senate debates and juggling to come up with an immigration reform package to satisfy the right, middle and left, I have no doubt that history will show, the Minutemen’s actions in 2005 and 2006 were the overwhelming reason this issue finally came to a head. While we’ll have to wait and see what the final new legislation looks like, whatever it is, it will certainly change the status quo of what’s been going on for the past decade at our nation’s borders.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of the Minutemen project, no one can argue that what they did was ineffective . Wherever the Minutemen were on the border, illegal crossings stopped. Most would agree that if it were not for the efforts of the Minutemen, along with the continued news coverage from media outlets such as Lou Dobbs’ CNN program and a few outspoken congressmen, such as Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the issue would have continued to sit on the back burner and remained status quo.
Lessons learned on a local level
Police and sheriff’s volunteers have a long and proud history in America, dating back to the 1950’s and beyond. While their use is not new, the percentage of law enforcement departments across America who utilize them, more so non-sworn civilian volunteers such as citizen patrols and administrative staff, is less than one would expect considering the tremendous benefits they bring to the table.
The theory of putting a police officer on every corner says quite simply that doing so would virtually eliminate street crime as we know it today, as very few people would commit a crime in front of a police officer. Anyone who doubts this theory needs to only look at the success of the Minuteman project to see how placing extra eyes and ears on the border stopped illegal crossings where the Minutemen were visibly stationed.
While we all know it would be impossible to place a police officer on every corner because of the huge costs involved, if we again look to the example of the Minutemen on the border, we can see the potential for utilizing willing members of the community is there. Embracing trained, uniformed citizen volunteers to assist in being those critical eyes and ears for law enforcement would certainly act as a deterrent to street criminals. While no one wants to create a police state with a guard on every corner, having extra eyes and ears randomly patrolling our communities, in addition to your normal police staffing, would certainly provide an added deterrent to street criminals. Add to that more duties such as providing assistance with non-enforcement actions, and the benefits just keep multiplying.
In a Time of Disaster
Disasters can strike anytime any time and anywhere. And with the 2006 hurricane season just around the corner and experts predicting a robust season, now would be the time to consider implementing a volunteer unit within your community, if one does not already exist, to assist with the aftermath of a disaster should your community be affected. Many first responder agencies have stated that one of the more difficult tasks they faced after a natural disaster was dealing with the issue of managing an on demand volunteer force. While many willing and able good Samaritans are there to help, trying to sort out who has what skills, who is capable of performing certain tasks, and then organizing them into manageable groups can be daunting while trying to manage the aftermath of a disaster. While thankfully not every disaster is the size and scope of a Hurricane Katrina, for those in charge of protecting their community, it may certainly seem that way when it happens.
By involving the community as police and sheriff’s volunteers, many crime prevention and disaster recovery programs can be implemented with low to no cost. Doing so will provide a ready force should they be needed, much like our state’s National Guard units provide back up to law enforcement in times of civil unrest and to their full time military counterparts, as we’re seeing in Iraq.
For the law enforcement officers and officials reading this who have not yet implemented a volunteer unit, I understand that dealing with the negative side of life on a daily basis it may seem like members of your community are not willing to help. Having said that, I invite you to take a moment to explore some of the many resources and success stories of how civilian volunteer units have and continue to help law enforcement agencies all across our great nation. For starters, a number of success stories and police volunteer group profiles can be found at the NACOP web site listed below. I welcome your feedback regarding this article and would be happy to assist you in locating various resources related to implementing a volunteer unit within your agency. Please feel free to contact me at the e-mail address listed below or via our association web site.