County police workload may be eased by using reserve, auxiliary officers

April 11, 1993|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Staff Writer

County police plan to examine soon-to-be completed reports on how volunteer officers might be used to ease the department's workload.

The department's 5-month-old Citizens Advisory Council expects to complete separate reports -- one on auxiliary officers next month, and the other on reserve officers in June. The reports will go to Chief James N. Robey for review.

William Volenick, vice chairman of the 23-member council, said a subcommittee is looking into how a group of 20 auxiliary officers might help the department.

"The objective is to give the best police protection without icosting more" for taxpayers, said Mr. Volenick, the subcommittee chairman.

He said members of a reserve force could be fully trained as police officers, carry weapons and make arrests. But the reserves would work part time and without pay.

The auxiliary officers would be unarmed and could assist uniformed officers with traffic and crowd control during special events. These volunteers would never be assigned to work in a dangerous or hostile setting, Mr. Volenick said. They also could receive training through the police academy.

Mr. Volenick said the cost for either has not been determined. He suggested that the department could pay for the program through its operating budget, or through "a one-shot appropriation" from the county.

The subcommittee is reviewing similar volunteer programs in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, said Herb Watchinski Jr., council chairman.

Officer Guy Della, who runs the reserve officers program for the Anne Arundel County Police Department, said the use of 60 reserve officers there has been successful and beneficial for the department. Last year, the reserves, who are unarmed, volunteered more than 19,000 hours by helping control crowds, issuing parking tickets, booking prisoners and performing other tasks. "They really do help out a whole lot," he said. "They're there to help to alleviate officers from getting tied up on details." That program is 10 years old.

Dale L. Hill, president of the Howard County Police Association, said the union opposes the idea. The volunteers could become liabilities for the county and interfere with the safety of sworn police officers, he said, accusing the county of "trying to get something for nothing.

"I don't think it's an avenue we should be opening up," he said. "I just don't think we need that at this point."

Mr. Hill said the program also could trigger antagonism between career officers and volunteers, similar to the friction that has developed in the county's Fire Department. The use of volunteers could also take extra money from sworn officers who would work less overtime, he said.

Mr. Volenick said he considered using volunteers or reserves "after seeing more and more strain put on the police force."

The department's 1990 budget of more than $20 million has been trimmed to $18.2 million.

Although the department has been operating with 26 vacancies on the 264-officer force, those jobs will be filled when this year's -- police academy class graduates in December.

After reviewing the reports, Chief Robey will make a decision.

"I'm anxious to see what they come up with," he said of the studies. "I'm basically supportive of the effort now."

In the fall, the chief appointed the all-volunteer citizens council to work closely with the department to help improve law enforcement and promote closer police-community relations.

The advisory council also plans to study ways to make the department more efficient and effective, and how to improve communications between residents and the department, Mr. Watchinski said.

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