By Bruce Stambaugh, Contributor
The Harrisonburg Police Department has a new Wanted list featuring zero people suspected of committing crimes. Rather, after a recent ordinance amendment by city council, the police auxiliary is expanding from 25 to 35 officers.
In addition to increasing the group’s size, the recent ordinance removed the requirement that members live in the city.
“Persons interested in applying for the auxiliary have to be able to respond to police headquarters within an hour,” said HPD Sergeant Chris Monahan, spokesperson for the police auxiliary. “They also have to be at least 21 years old and pass a background check.”
Applicants also must interview to ensure they would be a good fit for the program. Monahan said the expanded auxiliary is needed for long-term growth.
“We want to open the door for more volunteers who want to assist the police force,” he said. “By expanding [the auxiliary], we can grow off of previous successes.”
Although the auxiliary is not currently fully staffed, increasing its size would allow more people to assist local law enforcement, Monahan said.
“It’s more about putting additional resources into the community with people who want to volunteer their time,” he continued. “The more people we have out there in the community is always good for community relations and community trust.”
Duties of auxiliary police officers vary greatly depending on a volunteer’s individual skills and specific police department needs that arise. Assignments could range from traffic control for parades and special events to helping with IT needs at police headquarters.
Monahan said new auxiliary members could either be sworn or non-sworn officers. Sworn members would be trained under Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services requirements to assume all the responsibilities of a regular police officer, including making arrests and carrying a firearm. Sworn officers would also wear police uniforms. Even so, they would always have to be accompanied by a regular police officer, Monahan said.
“Sworn volunteers will look the same as regular officers,” Monahan said. The amended ordinance states, “The members of the auxiliary police force, when called into service, shall have all the powers and authority and all the immunities of full-time law enforcement officers.”
Non-sworn auxiliary members do not wear uniforms or carry firearms, and could act as administrative assistants. Some current auxiliary members, he said, serve the department as a photographer, a technology expert, and by connecting victims of domestic violence with the proper resources they need.
Monahan explained that expanding the police auxiliary accomplishes two goals: It allowing for a broader range of skill sets to be represented and utilized in the auxiliary, and increasing police presence in the community without increasing the police budget.
“Members of the current auxiliary include a medical doctor, a nurse, a pilot, a professor, a store manager, and a business owner,” Monahan said. “Many different skill sets come to the table to serve the community.”
Once approved, auxiliary members are required to volunteer 20 hours per month. There is, however, no designated schedule for volunteers, Monahan said, and auxiliary members are not required to respond to emergencies.
“There are expectations to assist the community, however,” Monahan said. “The volunteers dictate when they put in the 20 hours.”
Monahan emphasized that no significant event spawned the desire to expand the auxiliary but that changes were requested to broaden the field for possible auxiliary members. Before the recent ordinance amendment, an auxiliary member had to be a city resident or business owner, or be employed within Harrisonburg.
“We want to match people’s strengths with the department’s needs,” Monahan said. “We want people who have a passion for community service through law enforcement but not full-time. We can find value in anybody who wants to volunteer their time.”
The amended ordinance also limits sworn auxiliary personnel service to age 70. After reaching that age, the person would have to serve as an administrative volunteer.
Persons interested in applying to join the Harrisonburg Police Auxiliary should contact Scott Sellers at [email protected].
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