I know how to put more police on the streets of Syracuse.
Seriously. It’s done around the country. It’s how fire service is provided in most of New York state. It would work.
Here’s what I mean.
Reserve police officers. Fully trained, fully empowered cops who volunteer their time, working a specified number of shifts a month. It’s the way many communities and states augment their police forces, make their communities safer and allow different kinds of people to find a place in the law enforcement field.
The costs are low, the benefits are great, the potential is unlimited.
If only you can get the unions to go along.
In New York, the notion of volunteer cops may seem strange. It isn’t done often. Sure, there are fire police, and some auxiliary police, but mostly they direct traffic and they are not truly police.
They don’t carry guns, they don’t have badges, they aren’t really cops.
But in other parts of the nation, reserve police are common. They patrol as state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and city cops. They carry guns, they wear badges, they answer calls for service and make arrests. They are cops in every regard.
Except that, in most instances, they don’t get a paycheck. Many, in fact, provide their own firearms and buy their own uniforms.
They do it because they want to be cops. They might be doctors or mechanics by day, but at night or on the weekends they are cops. Some work an eight-hour shift each week, others go in once or twice a month.
All help their departments by increasing the number of trained and sworn police officers available for patrol. Some do that by patrolling alone, others do it by teaming with a full-time paid officer. Whatever the arrangement, the reserve officers make their communities safer, take pressure off police budgets and provide a great assistance to the regular police force.
And they are an ideal solution for a variety of challenges in the city of Syracuse.
Residents want walking and bike patrols. Officers want more frequently to patrol in pairs. City officials don’t want to spend any more money on police. Everybody would like to do something about open-air drug markets and the murder rate.
The problem is, some people won’t take it seriously. They will dismiss it, presuming that police work is too complex, difficult or important to be entrusted to volunteers.
In spite of the fact that among the hundreds of police agencies using reserve officers are such cities as Tampa, San Francisco, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Add to that the largest police department in the United States – the NYPD – which has an auxiliary division that performs patrol duties.
So why not Rochester?
One obstacle might be the tendency locally and across the state not to let volunteers do things that union members now do. Police unions might be very reluctant to agree to allowing non-paid volunteers to take shifts from dues-paying members.
Overtime and new hires, after all, are the stock-in-trade of many police unions.
Even the volunteer fire service, long a part of most New York communities, is slowly being put out of business by ever higher and heavier training requirements. The burden is being made so great that fewer and fewer volunteers can devote the time necessary to be firefighters.
That’s unfortunate, and must be resisted. Because volunteers are completely capable of developing and maintaining the proficiency necessary to provide emergency services in their community.
That’s true in the ambulance, it’s true on the fire truck, and it’s true in the squad car.
Reserve officers work all across America, and they can work in Syracuse.
A few at a time they can go through police training the same way part-time officers do in other departments. The odds are most of them would even be willing to pay for it themselves. They can come on the department at very little cost and begin to meet the city’s law-enforcement needs.
And it would all seem to be in accord with the mayor’s belief that the larger community has a responsibility to help the city with its difficulties. Nothing could be a more direct assistance than coming into the city and helping to keep its streets and people safe.
A volunteer reserve for the Syracuse Police Department. It could save money and lives.
And it ought to be considered.