The Perth Amboy police force that is used to patrol senior centers, schools, parks and community events and handle traffic control is no longer. Now a well-trained volunteer auxiliary force fills the bill at a fraction of the price. This frees up full-time police officers to devote more time to crime hot spots and investigations of serious crimes. An added bonus: auxiliaries have been known to bridge the communications gap between police officers and the people they serve. It’s a trend backed by The Citizens Campaign. NJTV News anchor Mary Alice Williams spoke with its founder Harry Pozycki to see how it all works.
Auxiliaries supplement regular police. They help monitor the same communities that they generally come from. Pozycki says they recruit from the communities because those officers are familiar with the culture and the residents of the neighborhoods. The auxiliary officers are highly vetted and then professionally trained. Even after being trained auxiliary officers have to go through continual training to stay up-to-date.
“Their principal task is to be available in emergencies like Sandy where there were indispensable in Perth Amboy and other cities,” he said. “But in their infield training — which is ongoing — they can do all sorts of things. As you pointed out they patrol the parks in their neighborhoods, the schools in their neighborhoods. Some of them work as security guards in the schools. So they’re helping the children during the day and after school. They’re minding the same children in the parks and during the summer months as well.”
Pozycki says they really help with community policing, with auxiliary police acting as a sort of liaison between the communities and the regular police.
“It’s wonderful because there’s much more enhanced communication between the neighborhood and the regular police. That’s because the auxiliary that come from the neighborhood understand the culture and the residents,” he said.
To avoid recruiting neighborhood watch types he says they have implemented a best practices model that helps to weed out people not suited for the job.
“The old auxiliary police forces were really just a take anybody kind of thing. In the model that we’re now advocating, a best practice model, they recruit first from retired regular police officers and then from people who are seeking to become regular police officers or security guards in the neighborhoods or in the community,” Pozycki said. “So they’re already getting people who are highly motivated. Then they go through an extensive application and vetting process, background checks and so on. Then they go through 13 lessons at the police academy — the same as regular police officers do but for the use of guns — and then they go through a probationary period before they can even get their auxiliary uniform. So it’s extensive vetting that weeds out the wackos.”
Citizens tend to like the program because they help to further integrate police into the communities they serve. Also the fact that auxiliary police officers come from their communities makes people feel at ease. Pozycki says that regular police are recruited based on test scores and often come from out-of-town. Residents also like the idea that community members are engaged with the police.
“It makes them feel more comfortable,” he said. “In Trenton where this originated with the Trenton Civic Trust, a group that we helped found, the trustees had the highest murder rate in the state and said we need to supplement the regulars. We have cutbacks that are destroying the regulars and we need to have more community based police supplementing their efforts.”
Additionally auxiliary police offers offer a huge savings to the municipalities they serve.
“In the best practice model that we looked at, between two and three dozen auxiliary police had a budget total of $30,000 a year which covered uniforms, training, everything. $30,000 — not per officer — but for the entire auxiliary force,” he said.
That’s less than half the cost of one full-time police officer. But are the police unions pushing back against these more affordable auxiliary offers? Pozycki says there’s not much opposition once the unions find out the extensive training and vetting process auxiliary police have to go through and that they can not replace regular police, only supplement.
“There’s usually concern until we make it clear that the standard operational procedures manual that we created clearly defines the work of the regulars and does not allow the auxiliary to replace a regular officer,” he said. “Then when they see the type of vetting and and the type of training that goes into it and they’re much more comfortable that they’re going to have professionals that are not going to be problematic to them.”