Life Can Be Risky

Based on the statistics of one civilian volunteer per year killed in the line of duty, volunteers are ten times more likely to be killed in a car accident while driving to a police station to volunteer than actually volunteering on the streets.

Upon initial review, those words sound very noble and historical; however when you really break it down and grasp the full meaning, few truer words have been spoken. For any police agency to think they can truly do it all themselves without the assistance of the public, well, I offer them the following three examples: the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping; the DC Sniper shooters; and the case of eight-year-old Shasta Groene, a kidnapping victim. What do these three examples have in common? They are all representative of major crimes, well known in the media, which were solved with the assistance of above-average citizens who cared enough to step forward and volunteer to get involved in one way or the other, and thus saved more lives from being lost.

But you say, "Hey, what about all the police work that developed the information for the citizens to act on?" Yes, by all means, all these cases involved a tremendous amount of hard work by the police, and for that we owe them all a debt of gratitude. However, the point is that a true partnership between law enforcement and the citizenry is what helps keep our nation relatively safe and free from rampant crime and lawlessness. Without that partnership, I'm not sure law enforcement would be as successful in solving the number of crimes, and/or preventing as many as they do.

So now the question is, at what point do we stop asking the public for their assistance? Do we stop at just asking them to volunteer to call in suspicious behavior? Do we allow them to take one more step and volunteer to come forward and offer their assistance being an informant, for example, for illegal activities, such as having a drug house across the street from them? Do we stop at allowing them to volunteer to testify during a trial as a key witness? Do we stop at allowing them to volunteer to assist with in house administrative tasks, because they might get killed in a traffic accident while driving to the station? And of course the final question, do we stop allowing or choose not to implement a civilian volunteer patrol function, such as Citizens on Patrol, unarmed Auxiliary Police, etc., because it's too dangerous?

One question I would pose to any member of law enforcement is this: "Why not let the public decide what is too dangerous, and what is not?" Arm them with the true facts and potential for danger, based on accurate statistics, and not sugar-coated, either. Let the good citizens of our nation decide whether or not they want to get involved, and to what extent, based on the risk. Every week across our nation, hundreds of young men and women sit across the desk from a recruiter for our "all volunteer" armed forces, having to make a decision whether or not they should volunteer to join what may be an extremely high-risk job in the military. Many, in fact, choose to do so and pay for that decision with their lives, as we are currently seeing in Iraq and beyond. If it's okay for our nation's armed forces, the granddaddy of law enforcement on the world scene, to leave it up to citizens to decide whether or not to volunteer, then why would it not be okay for citizens in our communities to do the same?

Finally, before you answer that question for yourself, consider this: what would our country and world be like today if these brave men and women of the armed forces did not step forward and volunteer to fight for our freedoms? And as a follow up to that, what would the streets of our nation look like if brave men and women of all ages were not stepping up to volunteer to get involved in some fashion to work with law enforcement? Personally, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to Jim Durant, Nicholas Pekearo and Eugene Marshalik, along with their families and all those before them and after, who have and will give their lives to help make our streets safer for all, no different than the same gratitude we owe all the men and women of law enforcement. When all is said and done, in the end it's up to you to decide the role civilian volunteers should play in your agency. To honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, we should first consider all the hard facts before making a decision.

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