Riding Shotgun

The recent surge in officer layoffs may give cause to revisit history.

The majority of police departments across the nation operate with one man units which for many of the routine calls for service such as report taking, minor traffic complaints, etc. is adequate, although not ideal. However, when calls for service are potentially violent in nature such as domestic violence calls, assaults in progress, etc., two one-man units would be required at a minimum, and rightfully so: officer safety comes first. The end result of this policy can be lower priority calls get backed up and random patrolling goes away because two one-man units are responding to a calls which require those numbers.

In cases where the purpose of dispatching two one-man units is due to an officer safety concern, a unit with a traditional police officer and the second being a new class of AO, Assistant Officer, lower priority calls that require a fully trained officer can still be handled because the dispatched unit has two qualified officers onboard. Even if this new level of police officers were to be created, all calls for service would still be dispatched with at least one fully trained officer as required by state POST commissions which would also insure city managers would not try to replace new full time officers with AOs.

Another potential consideration of this newer class of officer would be to open up the field of law enforcement to those who may be fully qualified yet struggle with the written test. Keeping in mind the AO, assistant officer, position would restrict them from responding to calls for service on their own or being the primary officer on scene, perhaps the written test for the AO could be modified to a lesser degree or a person scoring 10 to 20 points lower out of 100, less than the normal cut off, would qualify for this entry level position. Otherwise, all other test and qualifications should be the same and if an AO would like to promote to a fully trained officer status, they would be required to pass the standard officer test and complete the remaining basic academy training class.

In the state of California for example, this would mean completing the final Module One of the three part modular training course used for reserve officer training. I personally know several young men who joined the Marines at a young age wanting to serve their nation, thus forgoing further formal educational opportunities and later tried to become police officer at the end of their enlistment period but failed the written test and ended up reenlisting for another tour of duty. While this is great news for the Marines, it’s sad to see their life's dream of becoming a police officer shattered because they didn't have the time to increase their level of education to pass the written test because they were to busy protecting our country. A program like the AO would be a perfect opportunity for these very brave and loyal young men and women to join the ranks of law enforcement to continuing serving their nation on a local level.

Of course with lesser duties and training comes lesser pay for the AO. However, for many Americans who are out of work today or lack a strong educational background, a rewarding full time job with retirement and health benefits at a pay level 30 to 40 percent less than a full time officer is still a good career job. Consider this, starting pay for the Los Angeles Police Department for a person with only a high school diploma is $59,000. With an AO program paying at 70% of a fully trained officer, this position would still pay $41,300; still high enough to attract quality individuals whose career options may be limited do to any number of circumstances. For agencies that have been forced to lay off officers, this program would potentially add 1.5 to 2 new officers for every one fully trained officer when budget levels begin to rise. Of course there should be mandated contract clauses to ensure the agency returns to it's previous staffing levels of fully trained officers and those laid off get first right of refusal for new openings so cities don’t use this to try to replace fully trained officers with all AOs once previous levels of funding are in place.

For those whose initial reaction is to say, Wait a second, that's creating a second tier of officers, I offer this: in most states this already exists with the reserve officer program. The difference is the reserve officer is not a full time employee, does not receive retirement and other benefits and may or may not be paid but otherwise is already performing this exact job function. This is nothing new. What would be new is creating a new full time position based on this level of training for specific purposes.

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