On the outskirts of a rural county in middle America sits a narrow, twisting and dangerous road where, unfortunately, a fair number of fatal accidents occur. The sheriff of the county realized that a significant portion of his deputies' time was being spent shutting down both ends of the road during accident investigations, so he wisely, as have so many other law enforcement executives, enlisted the help of the community by forming a volunteer program. The primary purpose of the program was to have a cadre of trained volunteers who would be on call to respond to fatal accidents and assist with road closures and traffic control as the investigations could easily run 12 to 24 hours. The agency chose the name "Fatal Accident Response Team" for their new volunteer unit as it had a sense of urgency and purpose to help recruit new volunteers. All was well and good until the first time the unit was needed and the deputy on scene of the fatal accident called dispatch and requested the "FARTs" to respond. As luck would have it, in this case, many of the volunteers were well-meaning retired senior citizens; and being new to the department, the deputies didn't know their names. As the FARTs began arriving to assist the deputies, they began radioing each other with instructions such as "have that FART move the traffic cones over one lane to turn traffic around, no not that FART, the old FART", referring to one of the more senior (in age) volunteers. As you can imagine, what would normally be a tragic and very sober scene became somewhat jovial for the deputies as they began to realize what they were saying. Others not at the scene but monitoring radio traffic, such as dispatch, were aghast that the deputies would refer to these dedicated senior citizens as "old farts," not realizing they were referring to them by their given acronym. Needless to say, after this first call out, the volunteer team name was changed to MART, Major Accident Response Team, and the volunteers as MARTs.
How could such a simple task as naming a volunteer unit turn into such a disaster, you may ask? With the exception of the military, there are very few, if any, professionals that utilize so many acronyms and slang terms to describe situations and people as those in the law enforcement profession. Just listen to a group of officers at the end of a high speed pursuit of a felony suspect describe the events.
"We had a series of 459 autos in the area and dispatch radioed me that a 459 auto just occurred. The RP saw the perp take off in their car, his 20 was southbound I-5. I tried pitting him but he got away. He finally TC'd and bailed out on foot. The Helo FLIR'd the area until SRT arrived and took him down after tasing him. K-9 came out and searched the area for the mutt's gun that CSI recovered and bagged for the DA's ATU.
It's no wonder we have so many different unique acronyms to describe volunteers and volunteer programs. PIPs, (Police Involvement Partnership), SPOTS, (Seniors Patrolling Our Town), CATs, (Citizen Action Team), NAO, (Neighborhood Assistance Officer), STARS, (Sheriff's Team of Active Retired Seniors), and one that has been around for over 20 years, contrary to what others may tell you, VIPS, (Volunteers In Police Service), and of course the FARTs, (Fatal Accident Response Team), to name just a few of the dozens in use today.
The name says it all--or does it?
Aside from the many different acronyms used to describe various civilian volunteer programs, there are of course the mainstay names used for other more traditional volunteer programs, such as reserve officers, auxiliary officers, search and rescue teams, victim's advocates, chaplains, etc. These names and others in many ways accurately describe the functions performed by the volunteers. There is not much confusion when a person is called a police chaplain, as it pretty much sums up what they do as well is the case of the search and rescue teams most commonly found in sheriff's departments. However another interesting and just as important point is that the names also provide a certain level of credibility to the individuals who are performing the functions, which in turn leads to a certain level of respect, which in turn can help assist in the recognition and retention of the individuals.