Reality shows are everywhere, but crime dramas still remain powerhouses on TV, with multiple shows regularly appearing in the top 10 broadcast programs [source: Nielsen Media Research]. There are good reasons why these crime dramas are so popular. The United States is a nation fascinated by crime stories, live courtroom coverage and 24-hour cable news stations.
One reason shows like the "CSI" series are so popular is that they give viewers a window into how detectives and scientists handle trace evidence. At one time, "evidence" was not so solid. According to the Innocence Project, 237 convictions have been overturned with DNA evidence since 1989 [source: TIP]. These belated exonerations often shock the public and lead to questions about personal safety. It's now been proven that the innocent can be thrown in prison for crimes they didn't commit. That's scary stuff.
So what can you do about it? Get involved. One way to give back to the community and explore your interest in criminal justice is to volunteer with the local police force. As with most any volunteer work, there is training involved. And yes, you'll need to have spare time to dedicate to the cause. But if you're interested in taking your curiosity about "CSI" to the next level, you don't have to make a complete career change. You can volunteer at your local police station, doing any number of basic tasks. You can truly make a difference, and that feels good.
In this article, we'll take a look at the requirements, available programs and the benefits of volunteering with the police. Ready to give back to the community? Read on to learn about the basic requirements.
Volunteer Police Requirements
Just about every volunteer organization has requirements. Many of these requirements involve how much time you can devote to the cause. Unfortunately, people often have good intentions, but they just don't have the time to commit to the work. Before you volunteer for anything, you should find out exactly how much time will be required of you each week or month -- it can be significant. For example, David Morgan, a civilian who volunteers with the Charlotte Police Department, volunteers 40 to 60 hours a month [source: Harrington].
When you volunteer to work for the police, you'll face more requirements than you would when, say, helping out at the local community center. Every police force is different, so it's important to check with your local police station to find out exactly what it needs. In general, you will probably run into these types of requirements:
- Be 21 years or older
- Possess a valid driver's license for your state
- Prove or be working toward U.S. citizenship
- Pass a background check
- Have a clean record
- Pass an interview, polygraph or psychological/medical evaluation
You'll also probably be asked to fill out an extensive application form or take training classes on report writing, security, citation writing and specialized work. It's helpful to know what kind of work you would like to do in advance, so you can ask the police if that type of work is available before you sign up. Now that you have explored the requirements, read on to learn about volunteer police organizations.
Volunteer Police Programs
Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) is a national government-sponsored volunteer program. VIPS was formed after former President George W. Bush encouraged Americans to give back to their communities in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The major goal of VIPS is to help volunteers and police stations work productively together for the greater good. VIPS can put you in touch with the closest police station that's participating in a volunteer program. From there, you can work on various projects, such as administrative duties, neighborhood watch, cold cases, disaster response or search and rescue [source: VIPS].
In some cities, you might be able to become part of a reserve or auxiliary police force. The New York City Auxiliary Police Program has been around since 1950. Within this program, unpaid volunteers observe and report [source: NYPD]. For citizens ages 50 and older, many police departments also offer senior volunteer programs where you can assist with fingerprinting, graffiti sightings and vacation house checks [source: City of Chula Vista].
You can also look for opportunities to volunteer with a sheriff's department. In Santa Clarita, Calif., Volunteers on Patrol work with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to search for missing children, conduct traffic and perform safety checks on schools, businesses and shopping malls [source: LASD].
Still on the fence about volunteering? Read on to learn about the benefits of volunteering with the police.
Volunteer Police Benefits
Volunteering can sometimes seem like a thankless job. But with police work, often you can see immediate rewards. First and foremost, you know that you're personally working to make your community a better, safer place. Even if you're just typing up reports, you're helping the full-time officers free up more time to keep criminals off your streets.
Depending on the police station that you work with, you can also receive these types of benefits:
- A uniform, department-owned firearm, crowd control equipment, protective vest or leather gear
- Free continued professional training or police academy training
- Worker's compensation for any injuries in the line of duty
- Awards of merit
- Recommendations for your future work
You could begin volunteering with the police as something to do in your spare time and realize you'd like to turn your passion into a full-time career. Completing the volunteer training and making connections with your local law enforcement can help you find these opportunities. But even if you have only a few hours a week to devote to the process, you're still making a huge difference in the lives of those around you. When you're ready, this exciting experience is only a phone call away.
Want to know more? Just check out the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- City of Chula Vista. "Senior Volunteer Patrol (SVP)." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.chulavistaca.gov/city_Services/Public_Safety/Police_Department/Volunteers/svp.asp
- DPD. "Volunteer Police Program Requirements." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.dallaspolice.net/index.cfm?page_ID=1183
- Harrington, Cliff. "'Grunt work' takes man to crime scenes." Charlotte Observer. 04/25/09. (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.charlotteobserver.com/597/story/685709.html
- Hill, Marcie. "Police seek volunteers to monitor surveillance cameras." Chitown Daily News. 11/25/08. (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.chitowndailynews.org/Chicago_news/Police_seek_volunteers_to_monitor_surveillance_cameras,18798
- LASD. "Volunteers on Patrol." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://lasd.org/online_form/volunteer/volunteer_info.html
- Nielsen Media Research. "Top 10 Broadcast TV Programs for the week of April 13, 2009 (Live + SD)." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.nielsenmedia.com/nc/portal/site/Public/menuitem.43afce2fac27e890311ba0a347a062a0/?vgnextoid=9e4df9669fa14010VgnVCM100000880a260aRCRD
- NYPD. "Auxiliary Police Program Overview 2008." 04/2008. (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/careers/nypd_auxiliary_police_overview_2008.pdf
- SFgov.org. "San Francisco Police Department Reserve Officer Unit." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.sfgov.org/site/police_index.asp?id=21348
- TIP. "Facts on Post-Conviction DNA Exonerations." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/351.php
- VIPS. "About VIPS." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.policevolunteers.org/about/
- VIPS. "Start a Program." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.policevolunteers.org/start_program/
- VIPS. "Volunteering with Law Enforcement: A Citizen's Guide." (Accessed 04/26/09) http://www.policevolunteers.org/pdf/volunteerBrochure.pdf