Take for example the phrase Specialist Reserve Officer, SRO, used by the Los Angeles Police Department, among others. This particular term is used to describe members of the community who volunteer their time to assist the department in specific and unique ways that the department would otherwise have to pay to have done by outside consultants. In this case, the SROs are not sworn officers and receive no training, as they bring to the table years of training in their own unique areas of expertise. Examples of specific SRO functions would include certified public accountants who act as forensic accountants to assist the department in complex white collar crimes. In this example, it would be cost prohibitive for many departments to have a full time certified public accountant on staff, just waiting for the day when a case comes along needing their assistance. Other examples may include using sales and marketing professionals to assist with the development of recruiting campaigns, graphic artists to help design the recruiting material, etc. These services can cost departments ten of thousands of dollars if procured on the open market. However, by enlisting talented, willing and dedicated members of the community to assist as needed, the department saves money that can be used to hire more officers. It also allows outside professionals to share their talents and likewise, their positive experiences with the community. In this example, by providing community professionals like these with a respected title and acknowledgement of their skills, a true win-win-win situation is created for everyone. The department benefits by saving dollars, the community wins by having their tax dollars being spent in the most effective manner, and the specialist reserve officers aka community professionals win by having the opportunity to be part of a respected organization and the rewards of helping keep the streets safer.
Words are cheap, increased services are not
When considering what names or acronyms you'll use to describe and/or call your volunteers, or for that matter, rename your volunteer program, don't be afraid to give credit where credit is due. One of the more common and long standing names used to describe citizen volunteers who patrol their communities is, as the name accurately describes, Citizens on Patrol, aka, COPs. In many cases, this name describes exactly what the volunteers do. They are citizens who either in their own vehicles or more commonly, in marked patrol cars and distinctive uniforms, patrol their communities acting as extra "eyes and ears" looking for suspicious activity or crimes in progress. Once spotted, they take no action other than to notify dispatch of what and where they see the act occurring so officers can respond. Many of these tremendously popular programs have expanded to include additional functions such as assisting with traffic control and road closures, issuing non-moving citations such as handicap parking enforcement, providing extra patrols for areas with recent crime waves, writing vehicle impound paper work, etc.
When volunteers take of these additional functions, their scope and value increase greatly and as such, the name, Citizens on Patrol no long accurately describes their complete functionality. While there is nothing wrong with keeping the original unit name, I'd like to suggest giving some thought to a "name upgrade" to better reflect their function. In the last example, the term auxiliary police or citizen police assistant, amongst others, may better describe their functions. In addition to providing a more descriptive name, the change will also raise the level of respect and recognition for your volunteers who are now providing more services and value to the department. In situations where not all your volunteers want to perform the additional duties, consider keeping the original name assigned to those who wish to stay at the original service level, and assign the new name to those who wish to take on the added responsibilities. Doing so will provide immediate increased recognition for your volunteers which can lead to greater retention of them with virtually no cost to your agency other than perhaps new patches for their uniforms to reflect their new title.
In the end, your goal should be to provide a name and title that accurately describes the functions of your volunteers while providing them the recognition and respect they deserve for providing this service to your agency and community. Titles and title changes are virtually free, yet the services provided by your volunteers (if you had to pay for them) are not. For agencies with existing volunteer programs, take a moment to review your current titles to see if they still accurately reflect the services provided by your volunteers and if not, consider making a change or adding a new level for some of your volunteers to aspire to, similar to sworn officers wishing to become detectives. For those looking to start a new volunteer program, as seen in the example of the FARTs, it pays to give some thought to how and what the title will look and sound like when used as an acronym. Like the old high school woodshop teacher use to say, "measure twice, cut once."