Rosemary DeMenno, Program Manager, International Association of Chiefs of Police
he Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program, funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and managed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) for 12 years, was a hugely innovative effort when it began following 9/11. Since then the program has added tremendous value to participating law enforcement agencies as demonstrated by the following results:
- 2,320 volunteer programs, including 89 new programs, registered with VIPS last year, representing 264,000 volunteers.
- More than 100 in-person trainings and 153 presentations reached approximately 10,000 people.
- More than 1,100 people registered for the online Building Blocks of a Law Enforcement Volunteer Program since its launch.
- 459 law enforcement staff and volunteers from 109 agencies received training on using the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System and other resources to help support missing and unidentified person cases.
- 16 VIPS program managers participated in the VIPS State Advocate Project to assist and support state and local VIPS programs.
There is no denying the impact VIPS has had on law enforcement agencies around the United States over the last 12 years. As a result of economic strife, volunteers stepped up to add value to law enforcement agencies experiencing an increased workload in a resource-constrained environment. The financial benefit of volunteer programs is substantial, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of value added to agencies each year. Engaging volunteers allows access to a broader range of expertise and experience, while allowing law enforcement officers to focus their efforts where they are most needed.
Volunteers have been formally and informally supporting law enforcement efforts for more than a century through posse, auxiliary, and reserve programs. Over the years, the growth of the community policing movement, increased awareness of homeland security threats, and challenging economic circumstances faced by state and local governments have changed the face of law enforcement volunteer programs in many ways.
In 2002, President George W. Bush laid the groundwork for the VIPS program through the USA Freedom Corps initiative. Launched in May 2002, the program provided support and resources to state, local, tribal, territorial, and campus law enforcement agencies around the United States and the world. The VIPS program began with 74 registered programs in 29 states. Today there are programs representing all 50 states and several countries.1
Law enforcement volunteer programs are as varied as the agencies that host them. Programs range in size from one person to thousands. The volunteers never replace sworn or civilian employees. Rather, volunteers offer support to allow agencies to provide additional services, maintain positive relationships with the public, free up staff time for higher level duties, and maximize impact in the community. Volunteers may contribute through community-based roles, such as Neighborhood Watch members or block captains; through administrative roles, such as warrant compliance calls or front desk assistance; or through skilled positions like web design or database creation.
Resources to Start or Enhance a VIPS Program
Every law enforcement volunteer program is different depending on the needs of the agency and the community, but there are several core concepts that all agencies must consider when starting or enhancing a volunteer program: what your volunteers will do; how they will be recruited, vetted, trained, and recognized; who will manage and supervise them; and what policies and procedures will guide the program. With expenses including staff time, work space, screening, supplies, uniforms, and recognition, there are costs to be considered when planning a volunteer program.
Over the past 12 years, the VIPS program developed many publications and resources to aid law enforcement volunteer managers. These include a model policy on the use of volunteers, a resource guide for volunteer managers, a collection of videos, and a series of articles on the latest topics and trends in law enforcement volunteer management. Additionally, the VIPS Resource Library has more than 500 sample volunteer applications, handbooks, trainings, and other documents from agencies that can help efficiently track and manage volunteers. The e-learning course, Building Blocks of a Law Enforcement Volunteer Program, covers the foundations of volunteer management and is open to all chiefs and law enforcement volunteer program managers. All of these materials can be found at www.theiacp.org/VIPS. One of the greatest assets of the VIPS program is the vast collection of knowledge and experience that exists in its network of law enforcement volunteer program managers. The VIPS directory can be accessed at www.theiacp.org/VIPS.
As many law enforcement and government agencies face limited resources, partnerships become increasingly important. For example, law enforcement agencies can work with fire, public health, and emergency management partners through their state or local Citizen Corps councils to plan for and coordinate volunteer involvement in disaster response. U.S. federal agencies can be a good resource for training materials.
While maintaining a volunteer program requires an investment of time and resources, the return on investment is substantial. With resources from the VIPS program, the tools are available to help add the value volunteers bring in supporting an agency’s mission.
Selected VIPS Impact in the Field
Coral Springs, Florida, Police Department (CSPD)
CSPD launched its volunteer program in 1994, and since then, its volunteer program has helped the city maintain one of the lowest crime rates in Florida for cities with populations over 100,000.2 The CSPD volunteer program was so successful that, a year after its implementation, city management initiated a citywide program to incorporate volunteers throughout city departments. The police program has expanded over the years to meet the needs of the department and the community, and volunteers serve in almost every unit in the department, including crime scene investigations. The department has also engaged high school students in volunteering, and they have become a valuable resource. Recently, CSPD used teen volunteers in a training scenario to simulate a school shooting, which helped officers get realistic training, and the students earned service hours. In fiscal year 2012–2013, CSPD volunteers worked a total of approximately 11,000 hours.3
Framingham, Massachusetts, Police Department
Courtesy of Wayne Dion
Framingham Auxiliary Police Officers at roll call for the 2014 Boston Marathon
The Framingham, Massachusetts, Police Department volunteer auxiliary police program enhances, supplements, and supports the services provided by the police department to the community.
The auxiliary police program is made possible through a dedicated group of about 25 men and women who volunteer their time and energy as auxiliary police officers to help make Framingham a better and safer place to live and work. The auxiliary officers, who are all reserve academy trained, provide approximately 4,000 hours of community service annually.4
The auxiliary officers regularly patrol the community to check on critical infrastructure and assist the Framingham police as requested. Auxiliary officers are also active in all community events supporting the department’s community policing efforts.
The auxiliary officers come from a variety of backgrounds and occupations, including electricians, managers, business owners, security professionals, nurses, accountants, and doctors. There are a number of reasons why they have joined and serve with the department, but the primary reason is that they enjoy giving back to the community that they live and work in. For many, the auxiliary police program is a long-term commitment to community service. A number of auxiliary officers have served for more than 10 years, and a few have more than 25 years of service. For other officers, it is an introduction into a law enforcement career.
The auxiliary police program has become a valued source of talent for the agency. During the past two years, the Framingham Police has hired five full-time police officers, as well as a dispatcher and records clerk from the ranks of its auxiliary officers.
Avondale, Arizona, Police Department (APD)
The APD continues to provide challenging and innovative police volunteer opportunities and training to citizens interested in supporting law enforcement.
“Today’s police volunteers have a tremendous range of professional skills that we are able to utilize to enhance our organization and we greatly apprecite their contributions,” says Dale Nannenga, chief of police.5 Police volunteers make an enormous impact on supporting the work of the APD contributing annually a $225,000 value added in volunteer services.6
An important part of managing police volunteers is keeping them motivated, trained, and engaged. In Arizona, VIPS coordinators collaborate with one another to provide joint training opportunities for themselves and their police volunteers. Partnering with organizations outside of law enforcement can create unique program opportunites. For example, the APD VIPS provide Humane Education presentations in the schools along with the Arizona Humane Society, highlighting the VIPS’ five therapy dog teams. The two organizations build upon each other’s expertise and relay positive messages within the community.
Bellevue, Washington, Police Department
The Bellevue Police Department’s volunteer program began in 1994, with the opening of the department’s first Community Police Substation inside a local shopping mall. Volunteers were brought on board to staff the station reception desk. The program has since expanded throughout the department with about 50 volunteers working more than 17 different assignments in patrol, traffic, investigations, administration, and personnel services. In addition, volunteers help organize and staff special events like National Night Out Against Crime, prescription drug take-back days, and child safety fairs. The department has also integrated skill-based volunteers into the mix who provide expertise in strategic planning, Web design, and forensic accounting. For the last few years, a trio of volunteers has been working on a massive project to create a photo archive of the department’s history going back to its early days in the 1950s. They have scanned and catalogued thousands of old photos into a searchable database and, with the help of many retired staff, identified the people and locations in each photo. These photos are used for retirement celebrations, promotion ceremonies, memorials, and historical documentation.
Bellevue’s volunteer program was honored in 2007 with IACP’s Outstanding Achievement in Law Enforcement Volunteer Programs award and continues to be a model program for best practices in volunteer engagement. In 2013, Bellevue became the first law enforcement volunteer program to participate in the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Volunteer Program Assessment (VPA). VPA is conducted by doctoral candidates in the university’s organizational science program. Its goal is to enhance organizational effectiveness by establishing benchmarks for volunteer satisfaction and engagement across various non-profit sectors, from the perspective of the volunteers themselves. “VPA represents a truly unique opportunity for organizations to get objective, data-driven feedback about their program from some of its most important stakeholders: the volunteers,” says Marji Trachtman, Bellevue’s Volunteer Program Administrator.7 The experience was so valuable that she now serves as the liaison for other law enforcement volunteer programs wishing to participate in VPA. So far, more than 30 law enforcement programs have completed the process. ♦
1 International Association of Chiefs of Police, “VIPS—Volunteers in Police Service,” http://www.theiacp.org/VIPS (accessed December 10, 2014).
2Florida Department of Law Enforcement, “Crime in Florida: Uniform Crime Reports (UCR),” http://www.fdle.state.fl.us/Content/getdoc/a324add7-5dd6-4201-9696-93bfd76bc36c/UCR-Home.aspx (accessed December 10, 2014).
3Volunteer Services, monthly reports.
4Framingham, MA, Auxiliary Police, annual reports to chief of police.
5Dale Nannenga (chief of police, Avondale, AZ, Police Department), interview, October 2014.
6This number is based on the Independent Sector’s annual value of a volunteer hour and the hours tracked by the Avondale program; see Independent Sector, “Independent Sector’s Value of Volunteer Time,” http://www.independentsector.org/volunteer_time (accessed December 10, 2014).
7Marji Trachtman (program manager, volunteer program, Bellevue, WA, Police Department), interview, March 2014.
For more information, please contact Rosemary DeMenno, firstname.lastname@example.orgInternational Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
44 Canal Center Plaza, Suite 400, Alexandria, Virginia 22314
See the 2014 Awards for the winner of the 2014 Outstanding Achievement in Law Enforcement Volunteer Programs, along with a list of the departments given honorable mentions for their volunteer programs.
Please cite as:
Rosemary DeMenno, “Volunteers in Police Service: Celebrating 12 Years of Adding Value through Law Enforcement Volunteerism,” Officer Safety Corner, The Police Chief 82 (January 2015): 56–59.