The Columbus Police Department held its first organizational meeting for its new citizens volunteer group. Thursday.
The program came out of a series of meetings conducted by police department consultant K.B. Turner and is, presumably, one of a number changes/additions that will be suggested when Turner releases his report at the end of the month.
The civilian volunteer program will begin in modest fashion. There are five volunteers who will serve in a variety of capacities, primarily doing clerical work and other tasks not related to criminal cases.
They’ll greet visitors, take complaints on misdemeanors or refer more serious matters to the proper officers, do basic pre-employment background checks, help with record-keeping and other tasks that do not require law enforcement training. The volunteers will have some training to help them understand how the department functions, however.
The program, noted assistant chief Fred Shelton, is based on a well-established national program, Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS). Some cities use their VIPS program to aid in actual police investigations, even helping collect crime-scene evidence.
That will not be the case in Columbus, however.
That is not to say that the work will not be of value.
Many of the duties which will be performed by the volunteers are time-consuming tasks that can be done by laymen, which frees up the time for police department staff. That’s particularly valuable for the CPD, which is working on alleviating its manpower shortage. Any job that can be done by civilians without compromising public safety is a benefit to the city.
There is another benefit to this program as well. Efforts to build a spirit of cooperation between the police department and its citizens should be applauded. When police and citizens work together, the lines of communication open, bonds of trust are strengthened and citizens feel empowered.
The citizen volunteer group is a small, but important step.
We thank the volunteers — Christine Chandler, Anne Balthazar, Jessie Koonce, Ruthie Moffit and Rhonda Scott — and wish them every success.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.