If the Rockford police chief can add upwards of 100 volunteers to do office work, when do local retailers and businesses get to do the same?
I’m sure that over the next few days everyone’s going to get all excited and supportive over the Rockford Police Department’s expansion of its Citizens Assisting Police program, which started last summer.
After all, volunteering is an honorable human endeavor. We’re so accustomed to seeing those gray-haired retirees or chipper young things greeting us at non-for-profit doors that we probably take them for granted.
Hospitals use volunteers. Libraries and museums use volunteers. Heck, private companies use volunteers; bring in retirees to conduct the guest tours or work the charity event. So, why not a cop shop?
There are two reasons I pause when organizations use what I’d call “permanent, extended term” volunteers. The first is about jobs, paid jobs. The things these volunteers do used to be done — or should be done — by paid workers. When a volunteer is working regular hours over an extended period of time, that’s real work, not a hobby. Getting paid with a T-shirt and an annual volunteer luncheon is not the same as age and benefits.
Glam up these volunteers any way you want, but without the trappings, these are simply ways of getting around the state and federal wage and hour laws.
The second pause is confidentiality. Sure, long-term volunteers are vetted; many must pass criminal background checks. But they are not employees; they’re gussied up private citizens with access to confidential conversations and information. Though it’s unlikely hospitals and cop shops hand over security access codes to volunteers, just having a run-of-the-place familiarity makes them privy to information private citizens would never have.
I’m all for volunteers. I am not gung-ho on replacing what should be paid employees with private citizens who have access to the internal workings of what should be confidential environments. Not in hospitals. Not in cop shops.