The True Savings of Reserves and Volunteers

Savings measured in the use of volunteers can range from negative zero, i.e., it will cost you... to hundreds of thousands of dollars saved in additional services delivered.


So where is the savings in this example? In a mid-sized county located in California, a full time deputy sheriff was on road patrol, accompanied by a reserve deputy. A traffic stop was initiated on a vehicle for a minor traffic violation. Upon stopping the vehicle, the driver and passenger of the subject vehicle both exited with high powered handguns and opened fire on the patrol unit. Both deputies exited and returned fire. The full-time deputy's own handgun was hit by gunfire and shot out of his hand. The reserve deputy continued returning fire on the two suspects, allowing his partner time to regroup and engage back into the firefight with his backup weapon. In the end, one suspect was killed, the other wounded, and later captured nearby hiding in a field. No one can say for sure what the outcome of this situation would have been had there only been one deputy. But most would agree, in this case it's highly likely that because there were two deputies against two suspects, the good guys won this battle. The outcome may have been different if it were two against one. For this example, the savings of having reserve officers could be measured in a life saved, versus dollars and cents.

Citizens on Patrol

Although not sworn officers and with no powers of arrest, Citizens on Patrol, aka COPs, can provide a sense of safety which is difficult, at best, on which to place a dollar value. While patrolling their communities in marked patrol vehicles, COPs act as the eyes and ears of law enforcement, looking for suspicious activity and/or crimes in progress, reporting it when seen. Some agencies will allow their COPs to assist with non-enforcement actions such as traffic control at accident scenes, large events and/or road closures during natural disasters, parking enforcement details, low priority report taking, etc. In the latter case, there is certainly a cost savings to be associated with the use of COPs as they are performing the function of what may otherwise be done by the officers on duty at that time. However caution should be used when trying to attach dollar figures to these efforts as the flip side is, unless the agency was going to hold over officers from another shift to provide these services or call in those off duty, one could argue there is no cost savings, which would be correct. However once again, the savings that needs to be examined is the public safety aspect. Regardless of how many officers are on duty at any given time, it would be a very rare case to find a shift that is "fat" with officers, where there are more officers on duty than needed. In today's world of tight budgets, lower staffing, etc., many agencies are running short and in some cases, mandating overtime of officers to maintain minimum shift personnel levels. As in the above case of the reserve officer being "second gun" during the shoot out, given the choice, would an agency want their officers directing traffic at an accident scene, or being a second car to back up their fellow officers on a hot call? I think the answer in this case is obvious. If well-trained and qualified civilian staff volunteers are available to supplement the patrol roster to assist with non-enforcement actions, a short-staffed agency would be allowed to maximize its force where it's most needed.

Clerical and administrative roles

This area of civilian volunteer use could in itself be an entire article; however, recognizing the limit on space for this column, I'll focus on just one of many great examples. Each Monday and Thursday, inside a police station of a mid sized city in Southern California, sits a woman whose career involved working for several high paid business executives. As such, our friendly volunteer acquired the unique skill of taking shorthand for the executives. Now retired, she uses this skill to help keep officers on the streets patrolling. In the past, when an officer was dispatched to a call requiring a report, they took their notes and at some point in time, returned to the station to type them out, which could take them off the streets for up to an hour, or more, at a time. Now the officers in this one particular city simply dictate their reports into a microcassette recorder and leave the tapes in Mrs. Friendly Volunteer's inbox. Each Monday and Thursday, she retrieves the tapes, listens to them and transcribes the officers' reports to paper. Once done, she places the complete report in the officer's mail box for review, along with a notation of where the file is on the computer, should they wish to make any changes. The city could not afford to hire someone to do this for the officers, so it's hard to say she is saving them money. But clearly, the fact that officers are spending more time on the streets versus in the station typing reports, is a great savings which again could be measured in overall reduction of crime versus dollars and cents.

It is what it is

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