Question of the Day: Volunteer Cops?

It’s often said that America has an all-volunteer Army. I don’t think so. Every United States soldier receives a paycheck. The compensation may be meager (and the hours inflexible), but I reckon that getting paid for a service makes you a professional. A “volunteer” doesn’t get paid. To wit: the Largo Florida Volunteers in Policing force. “In October alone, a staff of 55 worked 1,297 hours, securing accident scenes, checking pawn shops for stolen items and patrolling city streets,” the St. Petersburg Times reports. They were paid $0. And are proud of it.” While nothing in the article indicates that the Volunteers are proud of not being paid, one thing’s for sure: the VIPs are saving the Gulf Coast town mucho dinero . . .

If a dollar value were placed on the VIPs, as the volunteers are called, it would be significant – about $250,000 per year, using the lowest grade officer pay ($20.50 per hour) as a basis for the value of an hour worked . . .

That, according to Hill, is a big money saver for the Police Department, which has been forced to tighten its belt recently to correspond with city budget reductions.

TTAG called Richard Hageman, Volunteer Coordinator for the Largo Police. Hageman told TTAG that these not-a-civilian, not-quite-a-cop cops are not armed. “No sir, they have no weapons at all.” Nor does Largo’s white shirt and black pants brigade (with sewn-on badges) receive any force-on-force training. But “They’re all equipped with radios. If they need one, a regular policeman is there in seconds.”

Setting aside the question of how many seconds that might be, ignoring the inherent problems of sending someone on patrol without the power of arrest or so much as a can of pepper spray, you’ve got to wonder if an unpaid citizen police force is fundamentally flawed idea. Don’t Largo residents deserve “real” cops instead of what looks a lot like union-busting security theater or, as one VIP put it, a “human cone”?

Would you be happy with a supplementary volunteer police force patrolling the streets of your town and poking their noses into local pawn shops? More to the point, would you, a member of TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia (by default) join a volunteer police force? Would you do so unarmed?

comments

  1. avatar Joshua says:

    The problem with volunteer police officers is that they may not be in the right frame of mind while performing their duties.

    This is a prime example of the potential Barney Fife attitude. http://abclocal.go.com/wtvg/channel?section=news/

    Not to say that this is the rule rather than the exception, but it is a liability that has to be considered much like was discussed in the arming of teachers blog.

    1. avatar Joshua says:

      and no way would I do any type of potential police work unarmed.

      1. avatar Martin Albright says:

        The problem with volunteer police officers is that they may not be in the right frame of mind while performing their duties.

        And this is different from paid police in what way? You mention Barney Fife but IIRC he was a paid, full-time member of the Mayberry PD. Fictional, yes, but my point is simply that a Barney Fife attitude is not confined to volunteers. If anything, the fact that a volunteer has to keep one foot in the non-cop world might humble him a bit.

  2. avatar Martin Albright says:

    Robert I don't know what things are like in New England but volunteer cops (they're usually called Reserves) are very common in both the South and West. They typically go through an abbreviated academy that trains on nights and weekends, and they are often called in to work large events like fairs, conventions, or other events that require a large number of bodies. Every reserve deputy or officer I'm aware of is armed and trained in the use of weapons, arrest procedures, etc. In some departments they are required to work alongside a paid officer but otherwise they are "real" cops. (continued)

  3. avatar Martin Albright says:

    As to whether the citizens "deserve" paid or unpaid cops, I think the question should be: What happens when we professionalize the police force? As soon as you professionalize, you set up an "us and them" situation, a "leave it to us we know best" attitude and of course the infamous "Blue wall of silence" that encourages cops to close ranks around bad cops to protect their own from the judgment of the "civilians."

    I would argue that unpaid volunteer cops and firefighters are in the spirit of the "militia" from the 17th and 18th centuries. They are ordinary citizens who have chosen to take up arms for the safety and security of their own community – is that not what an 18th century militia was?

  4. avatar AMG says:

    As Martin stated, "Reserve" officers are – to my knowledge- not uncommon in other parts of the country. Where I live, the Dallas Police Department has a reserve battalion of unpaid officers that receive academy training and are licensed as Texas peace officers with arrest powers. They are armed and, as far as I'm aware, are outfitted just like full time Dallas cops.

    I have some reservations about the idea of volunteer police officers working within paid departments, but I'm not outright opposed to the idea. If used, however, they should receive complete police training and be allowed to carry weapons, as in Dallas. Personally, I would be extremely reluctant to go on unarmed "patrol" of any kind while wearing police insignia. Seems like a good way to get into a very bad situation, doesn't it?

  5. avatar Rabbi says:

    "No sir, they have no weapons at all.” Nor does Largo’s white shirt and black pants brigade (with sewn-on badges) receive any force-on-force training. But “They’re all equipped with radios. If they need one, a regular policeman is there in seconds.”

    There is a whole lotta fail right there. Wearing a badge without the weapons, training and ability to back it up is a major problem. Maybe they can hit the perp on the head with their radio.

    The concept that someone thinks that a regular policeman could be there in seconds is frightening.

    All reserves that I know are trained and have weapons. Many only have law enforcement powers when they are with a full-time officer.

  6. avatar Ralph says:

    What's next — volunteer crash dummies? I'll pass.

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