In the fall of 1996 the Police Department had just graduated from its first Citizen Police academy with fifteen graduates; the Department was searching for a new police chief and was experiencing a 22% vacancy rate in its sworn-officer ranks; and a gang related killing had galvanized the community to take action. These near simultaneous occurring events proved to be the catalyst that provided the foundation to develop a very unique community policing partnership. That partnership became known as the “Citizen-assisted Policing Program”.
The program was constructed on the premise that highly trained “Citizen Police Assistants” could augment the staffing of the police department, provide law enforcement services not requiring the presence of a commissioned police officer, and most recently, assist the department in accomplishing Homeland Security initiatives. Our primary strategy was to develop and equip a citizen-assisted policing initiative, as additional “eyes and ears” to combat gang, drug abuse and violent crime activity, and to assist officers with routine tasks that can be completed by non-sworn volunteers, allowing the officer to return to active patrol.
After having a fully operational Citizen-assisted Policing program in excess of seven years, we have attained our three initial project goals. We have developed (1) a responsive, long-term and meaningful partnership with the community, the members of the Citizen Assisted Policing Unit, and members of the police department; (2) the public’s awareness of the need to assist their police department and maintain an open line of communication to help in combating crime and ensuring homeland security efforts are met is present; and (3) the Citizen-Assisted Policing Unit has and continues to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the police department contributing trained, volunteer citizens assistance to the department.
It has taken commitment, changes in traditional structure, and limited funding to create a partnership that has made a lasting change in the way we view citizen participation in community policing and the delivery of law enforcement services. They had not solved all of our problems, but they have empowered our community to be responsive to is needs, developed a bridge of communication and understanding, and changed community perceptions of law enforcement. Our Citizen-Assisted Policing program has become a key ingredient to a tangible community policing orientation and is responsible in part for increased officer efficiency.
Dodge City, and all of its public safety partners, endorses the validity of a program of citizen-assisted policing. The City Commission passed an ordinance making the program a permanent unit of the Police Department and has funded it with a line item budget. Over fifty-five agencies, coast-to-coast, have inquired about this initiative and an Evaluation and Implementation Guide has been developed, to assist other agencies in their development of similar programming.