2,100 Police Agencies Use Volunteers; Some Actions Raise Liability Issues


Hamstrung by shrinking budgets, police department say volunteers are indispensable in dealing with low-level offenses and allow sworn officers to focus on more pressing crimes and more violent criminals, says the New York Times. Volunteers sometimes collect evidence, interview witnesses, search for missing persons, and look into long-dormant cases.

“We had the option to either stop handling those calls or do it in a different manner,” said Fresno, Ca., police chief Jerry Dyer, whose department has lost more than 300 employees in recent years. “I've always operated under the premise of no risk, no success. And in this instance, I felt we really didn't have very much to lose.” In the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, 10 volunteers have been trained to process crime scenes, dust for fingerprints, and even swab for DNA. In Pasadena, Ca., a team of retirees is combating identity theft. There are volunteer programs at some 2,100 departments nationwide, says the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The use of volunteers in investigations raises legal and liability questions, said Robert Weisberg of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

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