While in the above example the search team was not successful in locating the young teen's body, had the search area been expanded, they most certainly would have. In addition to being able to provide a substantial number of additional "feet on the street" with short notice, there is also a large budget savings to be gained. Based on current average salaries for police officers in Southern California, the cost of paying 140 officers six hours of overtime would have been approximately $37,000 for this one search, assuming they were available in the first place, which they were not. Take a moment to think how many additional bulletproof vests, new hand held radios, specialized armor, MDTs, etc., could be purchased with those savings. Or better put, how many would not be purchased if the city had to pay for the cost of the search, and it's easy to see the dollar value of volunteers.
The Need for Volunteer Mutual Aid Teams
The point: mutual aid agreements, whether written, verbal or just a way of life for members of law enforcement, have been around since the early days of town marshals and four horsepower stagecoaches. However, when it comes to mutual aid agreements for the use of "other than" sworn officers, it's far more the exception than the rule when other agencies' volunteer units are requested. A key component to successfully utilizing other agencies' volunteers in a time of need is to establish agreements in advance. While members of law enforcement within each state are trained to statewide standards, volunteer units training and capabilities vary from agency to agency.
Thought should be given to how local volunteer units can and/or should be utilized for non-enforcement actions. In the case of a search effort where hours of walking through rough terrain is required, units who used only senior volunteers may not be the best choice versus a reserve officer, Explorer scout, and/or citizen patrol unit. Conversely, using senior police volunteers to assist evacuees at a shelter for check-in could be a better choice than highly trained reserve officers. Other items to consider in advance are how will your agency communicate with the responding outside volunteer units, what type of vehicles, if any, do they have available, and what type of emergency training, first aid, CPR or other specialized training have they received which may assist your agency in certain circumstances.
Once you've established a local volunteer mutual aid agreement or VMAT, consider establishing a common item of clothing for outside volunteers to wear which will easily identify them as "trusted and welcomed" members of your team. Something as simple as a light mesh vest, like those used in traffic control, with the letters "VMAT" or "Police Volunteer" on the back and front can be purchased inexpensively. Generally speaking, one size fits all, and can be worn over any form of existing uniform.
Having this type of program established in advance of your agency's potential need for "force multipliers" will help everyone respond and assist in a much more professional and organized approach. As one of the volunteers who responded to the search for the missing young lady mentioned above, I can tell you that without a doubt, every volunteer there that day was extremely proud and honored to have assisted with this tragic situation. Knowing that we were part of a trusted team called upon to help members of law enforcement bring closure for this family while helping to potentially uncover evidence to further help convict the killers was an tremendous experience. In the end, you'll find most people volunteer to help others, not just those in their community. I urge any member of law enforcement reading this article not to overlook the power of volunteers within your local and surrounding agencies in a time of need, and begin establishing volunteer mutual aid agreements now when you can, rather than later when time may be against you.