Unpaid Volunteers With Guns Performing the Duties of Police Officers

All over the country, there are listings for positions for people to “perform all the duties of a police officer” with the “ability to accurately and effectively discharge a rifle, shotgun, and handgun with both left and right hands.” These positions are also unpaid—essentially, as Vice’s Dan Charles puts it, “unpaid interns with guns.”

“People are looking to join the police department, and given our hiring freeze right now, they can’t,” Jose Hernandez, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal when the department launched a reserve police officer program last March. In essence, these are unpaid interns who are expected to fetch perps, not coffee. Though the officers receive much the same training as their paid colleagues, Hernandez told the paper that, because they only work two shifts a month, they don’t have the same experience and thus are limited to patrolling with a full-time partner.

That’s not always the case in other jurisdictions. In Valley Mills, Texas, unpaid reserve officers are expected to be in patrol cars alone. In Whitney, Texas, “Non-Paid Police Officer” is a full-time job, and those officers “shall be expected to complete the same duties as full-time officers.”

This makes me … nervous. Of course, when you find unpaid volunteers to perform the duties of a police officer because of budget constraints or what have you, there is less incentive to figure out ways to get a regular, paid officer to do the job.

Photo: Dave Conner

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

scn231 (#1,705)

Aggggghh this is the worst unpaid intern story yet.

Oh god oh god oh god. This has the potential to be such a tragic disaster.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

There’s a risk, but the general idea seems feasible. Provided that the applicants pass the various character tests and whatever else are provided to potential police applicants, I think the risks are quite manageable.

One of the issues that some cities and towns face is that the pension plans for public servants (including police officers) vacuum up quite a bit of the available city funds. In effect, police in some areas have priced themselves out of the market. If the pensions use too much money, then funds are not available to hire new people.

I’ve read numerous stories about a city in California where there isn’t sufficient coverage by the police, due to limited numbers. If you lived in a city or town without sufficient police numbers, would you prefer to have a trained volunteer to respond to an emergency call or no one at all?

scn231 (#1,705)

@WayDownSouth No! No! Nonononono our society’s inability to prioritize public needs is not a justification for this nonsense. I don’t want volunteers with guns standing in for police officers any more than I want a “trained volunteer” to be handling my medical needs because, shrug, there are no doctors and isn’t that better than “no one at all.” Police have not “priced themselves out of the market,” because public service is not an elastic need – demand is permanent. Not to mention how this would play out legally – how are cities going to pay when they get sued over the incompetent actions of their volunteer faux police? NYC paid almost a billion dollars in settlements in the last decade for the civil rights violations by its police force – wrongful deaths, false arrests, assaults, etc. – and those are actual, professional, full time, paid, experienced police officers. The last thing we need is to lower our standards for who gets a gun and a badge in this country.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@scn231 You raise a number of good points. In my response, I don’t want you to think that I’m saying that you’re wrong. Your points are valid. The question is how to deal with the situation that the relevant cities and towns find themselves in.

The fundamental issue is that some cities and towns can’t afford to pay for the number of police officers which are required. If a town needs 10 police officers and can only afford to hire two, then there is going to be a coverage gap. The immediate question is how to deal with it.

One way is to raise taxes a lot, but that’s generally counter-productive (see Detroit).

Another way is to tell civilians or businesses that they’re going to have to hire their own private security or provide their own security. I think that’s quite risky. I was very sad to see those store owners protecting their properties with personal weapons during the LA riots — no doubt you were too.

Another way is to reduce expenses in other areas (e.g., reduce funding for some social services, such as the number of social workers or teachers). I’m not saying that these services aren’t needed. However, they may be seen as a lower funding priority than police in the short term. (Note that quite a few members of my family are teachers, so I’m aware of the importance of them.)

Another way is to bring in people with restricted authority and restrictions on what they’re allowed to do. For example, it wouldn’t bother me to have a non-professional cop directing traffic, responding to burglary complaints (for insurance purposes, not when the burglar is in the house), etc. This frees up police resources to focus on more important matters.

Let’s look at a practical example. A soldier has retired from active service. She would like to volunteer to assist the police force. This is not a pizza delivery high school kid, this is a mature, experienced adult. I wouldn’t have a problem with her fulfilling basic police functions.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

Cause unregulated vigilantes unpaid volunteers [performing] the duties of a police officer usually works out swell for brown people, AMIRITE?

EDaily (#4,396)

@DebtOrAlive There has never been an unregulated vigilante who killed an unarmed brown person and got away with it, what are you talking about :(

Eric18 (#4,486)

@DebtOrAlive Not sure whether you are trolling or serious. You do realize the people who have benefited most from the massive drop in murder in this country are black and brown people, right?

Allison (#4,509)

@DebtOrAlive Right? The Zimmermans of the world would love Valley Mills, TX.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@Eric18 Dead serious. Emphasis on the “dead.” You are correct: black and brown people (like everyone else) has benefited great from the falling murder rate. I fail to see how that is related to this discussion without making (more than) a couple (big) leaps of assumption. But I’m open to hearing your clarification!

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@DebtOrAlive Wow, English much? “have benefited greatly”

the rat lady (#785)

Beyond all the other reasons this is a terrible idea, why would anybody want to do it? Being employed guarantees you things like worker’s comp, which seems like something you would want if you are walking around with a gun all day.

Eric18 (#4,486)

@the rat lady Perhaps some people who want to become cops but can’t because of hiring freezes, still want to be able to do some of the duties in order to prepare for a full-time job later on. And/or perhaps they care about their community.

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