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Auxiliary Police Officers…Just Add Training

Written by John Ferguson

When patrol officers inquire to management about the hiring of additional officers to deal with the increased calls for service, they are usually greeted with catch phrases such as “do more with less” and “work smarter, not harder.” Many police administrators like to proclaim these platitudes as the answer to the department’s increasing workloads and dwindling resources.

Increased calls for service, insufficient manpower, rising crime levels, and people’s perceptions that when crime touches them, each police department should drop everything else and dedicate 100% of its resources into solving their problem first further aggravate the situation of insufficient personnel.

Many people in the private sector have jobs they don’t wish to leave for a career in law enforcement. However, many of these people don’t mind participating in the public safety arena. In fact, many people already volunteer as EMTs, firefighters, hospital aides, etc., and several of them might jump at the chance to become reserve officers with a police agency.

The benefits of a well-trained and equipped auxiliary force are numerous. They become additional uniformed personnel in times of need, i.e., riots, natural disasters, major exhibitions, fairs or festivals. They provide added uniformed police presence. Sometimes it is just nice for people to see marked police cars and uniformed officers any time they turn a corner. It is also nice when the bad guys see them, too.

Auxiliary units convert a one-officer car into a two-officer unit, freeing other one-officer cars for additional calls for service in a timely manner. More mundane tasks (prisoner transports, hospital guarding details, delivery of paperwork, etc.) can be performed by auxiliary officers, leaving a patrol unit available to continue to handle calls for service and maintaining shift strength.

This also provides the auxiliary officer with the experience to become an effective “camera ready” officer should he decide to get into law enforcement full time or part time with little or no expense to the hiring agency. Ideally, the agency he has been working for as an auxiliary officer would consider hiring him when the opening becomes available.

Starting a Reserve Officer Force
Collective bargaining agreements can sometimes make auxiliary units impossible. Full-time officers state the fear of losing overtime opportunities is their main reason for opposing its formation. Police administrators also are reluctant to support the creation of an auxiliary force as they sometimes assume this eliminates or greatly reduces their chance of getting additional full-time officers, whom they badly need. There is no answer that appeases both groups, but the positives appear to outweigh the perceived negatives.

Depending upon how the auxiliary force is run, it certainly could reduce overtime. This is always popular with managers. The better trained and qualified a reserve or auxiliary officer is, the more responsibility he can assume. And yes, he may be tasked with an assignment that may have be given out to full-time personnel on an overtime basis. But consider that the majority of auxiliary officers tend to be younger people who are looking for full-time “paying” jobs.

How long will it take for a young, inexperienced auxiliary to become the qualified, experienced officer needed to handle calls for service or specialized assignments that involve overtime pay? And once the auxiliary does have the skill set needed to perform, how long will it be before some other agency sees these skills and offers him the full-time job that he has been seeking since becoming an auxiliary?

The creation of an auxiliary force can only supplement manpower, not eliminate the need for more of it. While auxiliary officers are generally willing to play policemen, they still must do something that pays the bills. Most auxiliary forces require some minimum number of hours to work each month. Many reserve officers exceed this minimum every month. However, the reserve officer’s paying profession must take priority over his volunteer police career.

With reserve officers available only sporadically, this does not help the police administrator in scheduling manpower based on activity levels and ensuring minimum staffing levels. Unless an agency has a reserve force approaching 50% the size of the entire patrol section of the department or many independently wealthy reserves who are willing to volunteer a significant portion of their leisure time to volunteering to law enforcement, the patrol divisions will always have opportunities for overtime.

Obviously, the costs associated with outfitting a new officer are enormous. The cost of uniforms, duty rig, body armor, raincoats, cold weather gear, etc. can run up into the thousands very quickly. Most reserve officers are younger people fresh out of the academy, or older “retread” officers who have previously left a career in law enforcement and are now looking to get back into it on a casual basis.

Asking them to outlay several thousand dollars for gear so they can volunteer 40 hours a month is simply not practical. There are three methods of providing these items to an auxiliary force: 1) the department pays for everything; 2) the department pays for nothing; or 3) the department pays for some portion of the equipment with the individual auxiliary officer paying for the rest.

One suggestion that is usually palatable to both parties is to institute some type of employment contract upon hiring the auxiliary officer. The employment contract is simply an agreement stating that the department agrees to pay for all equipment for the reserve officer initially and as long as the reserve officer stays with the department for some period of time (usually one to three years). Should the reserve officer leave the department by his choice (finds another job, decides this is not for him, etc.), he will pay for the equipment bought by the department for him (at some prorated amount—usually a percentage based on the length of the employment contract).

For example, if the reserve officer leaves halfway through the employment contract, he is required to reimburse the agency 50% of its original outlay. An employment contract works well in many ways. It keeps potential officers who are unsure if reserve officer duties are for them from being hired (for fear of having to repay the substantial equipment costs), and it keeps officers, into whom the department has invested dollars and man hours, from leaving before the department has received a return on its investment.

A refinement to the employment contract method is to base the repayment plan on the minimum number of hours an auxiliary is required to work each month and then multiply that by the number of months an agency requires him to stay to repay his initial equipment issue. By providing a clause in the employment contract allowing the auxiliary officer to fulfill his contract after he reaches the number of hours. This will potentially allow the agency to have an experienced officer a little sooner by providing incentive to the auxiliaries to work as much as possible to avoid any repayment costs should they be presented with an employment opportunity outside the agency.

Training for auxiliaries needs to be current, up to date, pertinent and continuous. Officers who are working only sporadically need to keep their police skills sharp and current. Because they cannot work as often as full-time officers, they miss out on a significant amount of on-the-job-training (OJT). Training courses can help fill some of this void, but nothing can replace the one-on-one experience of sitting in a cruiser on patrol doing the job. Auxiliary officers must receive the same in-service training as often as the full-time officers do.

Liability always seems to be the greatest concern to police administrators, and rightfully so. The carrying by a reserve officer of a department firearm with a badge and identification card indicating he is associated with a police agency would be the opening statement from any plaintiff’s attorney should the reserve officer do anything inappropriate. However, this is also the case with all of an agency’s police officers (whether paid or not).

Obviously, the best defense to some type of inappropriate action by a reserve officer is a proper hiring and screening program; thorough background check; psychological aptitude battery of exams, continuous, job-specific training; and continual monitoring by full-time officers with the teaching skills to train reserve officers in appropriate responses to situations.

Additionally, until a reserve officer has logged a significant number of “partner hours” (time spent riding with an experienced officer—similar to an FTO coach), he should not be permitted to patrol alone. This helps protect the agency from vicarious liability and increases the effectiveness of the auxiliary when he is eventually permitted to patrol solo.

Agencies will derive a substantial benefit from an auxiliary force. The savings from a reserve officer working instead of a full-time officer can easily amount to a several hundred dollars. At this rate, a reserve officer will have paid for his initial uniform and equipment within a few short weeks if he is energetic, or at most, a few months if he merely performs the minimum required hours mandated by the agency.

Auxiliary officers can also provide police managers with the extra personnel needed to implement community policing programs, as well as directed patrol assignments—always a big plus with the residents.

Whatever you call them, (special deputies, auxiliaries or reserve officers), they can be dedicated individuals who, for one reason or another, have decided to participate in public service. This participation is almost always done for no compensation and usually at significant personal expense and sacrifice.

With agencies facing ever-tightening budgets, as well as insufficient manpower to meet call demand, auxiliary officers are an inexpensive way to supplement personnel, stretch available resources and provide additional resources in carrying out the mission and goals of your agency. A well-managed auxiliary program can be just what agencies need in this tight fiscal climate.

John Ferguson, currently a sergeant with a medium-sized municipal police agency, has been in law enforcement since 1986. He is a former team leader of the department’s High Risk Warrant Service Tactical Team, he is a senior member of the Training, Firearms and Crash Reconstruction Units, and he is an adjunct instructor for the Butler Tech Law Enforcement Institute in Ohio. He can be reached at johnferguson@fuse.net.

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2008

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