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Community 5-0: Citizen patrols and auxiliary police

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Community policing—also known as citizen patrolling and auxiliary policing in some communities—is not a new idea. In its most modern interpretation, community policing was a movement that gained popularity over a decade ago as a means to involve citizens in preventing crimes and increasing the quality of life. Through these programs, citizen volunteers opt-in to help police identify and report crimes, voice community concerns and, in some cases, cite minor offenders in the absence of an officer.Today, according to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, two-thirds of all local police departments utilize community policing to some extent. Yet, only 18 percent of these departments actually have a formal, written plan for such efforts.

Written plans that outline how to effectively leverage community initiatives can be crucial components that help ensure that these programs foster community support and inspire volunteers. Here are a few tips for developing and communicating a plan in your town, city or community today:

Discuss the need within the community
If your community doesn’t have a formal plan or program established to address community policing, holding a meeting is a great first step. Ask citizens and law enforcement to come together for conversation—and refreshments—to talk about:

  • Concerns and fears in terms of public safety
  • Ideas for building trust to prevent future crimes
  • Outlining the roles of community members and police in preventing and reporting crime
  • Whether or not there is support for a community policing program and how citizens envision that collaboration working

Encourage everyone to jot down ideas and responses on scratch pads and make sure everyone is heard by passing out hand fans for people to raise with questions.

Alternately, if your community does have a plan or program in place, make a habit of holding these meetings on a regular basis to continually assess the needs of your local neighborhoods.

Determine responsibilities and expectations
After an initial meeting to gauge needs and interests, you’ll likely have a better picture of what shape a program should take and be better able to set goals. The plan part comes into play when your department aligns these needs and goals and maps out a clear roster of who is responsible for what—police or volunteers—and when, as well as outlining processes for reporting. This initial plan can help gauge the number of volunteer police your department will need as well as set expectations for those considering participating.

Write it down and make it readily available
Once your organization has a plan, write it down and make it available internally and externally. Be sure it’s shared with all new volunteers as part of the community policing training. Put together binders or folders for staff and volunteers that include the plan, important phone numbers, and the processes for reporting so everything they need is at their fingertips.

Promote the program within the community
Get the initial group of community members back together to present them with the new plan and to recruit volunteers. Then, spread the word even further by promoting the plan and the program throughout the community. Include a page on the police department’s website with information and a volunteer application, create PSAs to include on public access television stations and be sure to have representatives present at community events to help spread the word. Branded giveaways with contact information, like bike reflectors or flashlights, are sure to be a hit.

Building trust among community members and involving them in safety and crime preventions measures is key to vital and happy neighborhoods. Community and auxiliary policing programs are a great way to get started.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. Web. 20 June 2011.

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