Sworn Volunteers in American Policing, 1999 to 2013

Date01 March 2019
Published date01 March 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Sworn Volunteers in
American Policing,
1999 to 2013
Ron Malega
and Joel H. Garner
This study describes changes in the use of sworn volunteers among the nation’s local
law enforcement agencies and identifies those state-level certification, community,
and agency characteristics associated with agencies using such volunteers in 2013.
Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics data from 1999 through
2013 were analyzed to document trends in both the number of sworn volunteers
and the prevalence of agencies using sworn volunteers. While there has been a
modest decline in the use of sworn volunteers since 1999, in 2013, about 36% of
all local law enforcement agencies used sworn volunteers; furthermore, these vol-
unteers comprised 7% of all local sworn personnel having arrest authority nation-
wide in 2013. A survey of peace officer standards and training agencies found that
approximately two thirds of states required state-level certification of sworn volun-
teers. Multivariate analyses of state-level certification standards, census data, and
agency characteristics found that agencies were more likely to use sworn volunteers
if they (a) are a sheriff’s office, (b) serve jurisdictions with larger populations, (c) have
greater levels of social disadvantage, (d) do not require recruits to have more than a
high school education, or (e) are located within states offering graduated levels of
sworn volunteer certifications. Agencies were less likely to use volunteer officers if
they (a) hire part-time sworn officers, (b) have a greater entry-level salary, or (c)
are accredited.
Department of Geography, Geology and Planning, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO, USA
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA
Corresponding Author:
Ron Malega, Department of Geography, Geology and Planning, Missouri State University, 901 South
National Avenue, Springfield, MO 65897, USA.
Email: rmalega@missouristate.edu
Police Quarterly
2019, Vol. 22(1) 56–81
!The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611118785168
volunteers in policing, sworn volunteers, reserve, auxiliary
The United States has a long tradition of volunteers working in or assisting
off‌icial government agencies (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016) and this is espe-
cially true in law enforcement, where police off‌icers and sheriffs’ deputies have
traditionally been conceived as extension of the public’s efforts to maintain
order and reduce criminal behavior. Big city chiefs as well as frontier sheriffs
and marshals called upon local civilians for assistance, sometimes as armed
possess, and sometimes as school crossing guards (Greenberg, 2005). Until the
mid-20th century most law enforcement off‌icers in the United States had little
professional training, education, or skill requirements for employment and were
not certif‌ied by any local, state, or federal agency (Johnson, 1981). In many large
jurisdictions as well as more rural agencies run by elected sheriffs, law enforce-
ment positions were strictly patronage appointments (Miller, 2012).
The dramatic shift away from these traditional forms of policing emphasized
the off‌icer’s and agency’s skills at enforcing the law, investigating crimes, and
protecting communities (Kelling & Moore, 1988). Relatedly, there was a con-
certed effort to professionalize policing during the Professional Era of American
policing, which still impacts agencies today (Walker & Katz, 2001). With pro-
fessionalization came a career orientation for paid off‌icers, hiring and training
standards, and state-level certif‌ication; all of which brought more uniform
standards of appearance, policies, and behavior (Cordner, 2014). With increased
performance expectations, sworn personnel were hired for their expertise,
expected to be effective at reducing crime and disorder, and paid suff‌icient
salaries and benef‌its to promote full-time careers in policing (Walker, 1977).
The contemporary manifestation of this model can be seen in the nearly
764,000 sworn off‌icers that work in more than 15,000 state and local law
enforcement agencies in the United States during 2013 (Reaves, 2015).
Volunteerism in policing, however, continues despite the professionalization
of policing as an occupation that predominately uses paid employees as law
enforcement off‌icers.
One option for using volunteers is through sworn volunteer off‌icers (SVOs)
where law enforcement agencies obtain the services of sworn volunteers to per-
form most, if not all, of the assignments and responsibilities of a full-time sworn
off‌icer. These programs are designed to use trained volunteers who donate their
time to the agency. Some programs provide reimbursement for uniforms and
other equipment but sworn volunteers do not receive a salary. While potentially
an important aspect of contemporary American policing, very little research on
sworn volunteers exists in the academic literature. Most of it examines those
Malega and Garner 57

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