Nonprofit Newswire | Volunteer Programs Draw Ire From Police Unions

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August 22, 2010; Source: The Columbian | Vancouver, Wash., may think it’s a good idea to use volunteers to do the jobs that recently laid-off police officers and employees used to do. But their plans are drawing the ire of union members who don’t like the idea of unpaid workers taking their places.

As a result, the Vancouver Police Officers Guild has filed a grievance because the city has equipped Neighbors on Watch with license plate scanning equipment to identify stolen cars. The union says that’s a job only police officers should do. Rather than backing down, the police department is listening to other ideas from people like Vancouver resident, Jerry McDermott, who retired from the police department from across the Columbia River in Portland, Ore. For instance, McDermott suggested to the police chief that the department use volunteers to staff lobbies in precinct offices and that it use other unpaid workers to form a pawnshop detail to check both Portland and Vancouver pawnshops for stolen property.

Police Guild President Ryan Martin told the Vancouver Columbian that staffing the front counters of precinct offices with volunteers is poor substitute for the real thing. “It’s putting up a silk screen to the public and telling them we’re a full-service police department, and we’re not,” he said. “It might make the community feel more comfortable, but it doesn’t solve the real problem.”

Elsewhere in the city, using volunteers isn’t causing so much of a stir. For example, the Parks Department has had a volunteer program for the last 10 years, and Parks Manager Jane Tesner Kleiner describes it as a natural fit. “We are seeing such an increase in folks’ wanting to help, we took a hard look in early 2010 at who are we using, what are we having them do, what’s the need,” she said.

The department already has created a “how to help” section on its website, where volunteers can learn about “Ivy pulls” and trail use counts, and is exploring new programs, such as Adopt a Park. The city’s assistant manager is staying very open to forming other and more formal relationships with nonprofit groups. “We’re trying to identify what opportunities can be done through a more cohesive volunteer program,” Eric Holmes said. “It remains to be seen if we can effectively do that.”—Bruce Trachtenberg