According to the Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) Program Directory, there are more than 2,270 volunteer programs at law enforcement agencies around the country. Supervisory and management structures vary by program, but each program has a volunteer coordinator or volunteer program manager who oversees the volunteers. This volunteer program manager position may be sworn or civilian depending on the agency. Volunteer management is a full time position in some agencies, while in others the role may be taken on combined with other duties. In Part One of this two-part series, we asked a civilian law enforcement volunteer manager to tell us about this unique law enforcement job.
Marjorie Trachtman, Volunteer Program Coordinator, Bellevue, Washington, Police Department
How would you define the role of a law enforcement volunteer manager?
My primary mission is to sustain and manage (as opposed to build, since my program is in its mature phase at this point) a cadre of citizen volunteers who perform assignments that free up paid staff to focus on their primary law enforcement responsibilities, and who allow us to offer additional or enhanced services to our citizens. My duties encompass everything from developing new assignments, through recruiting, screening, placement, training development, performance monitoring, recognition and retention, staff/volunteer relations, recordkeeping, and PR/marketing.
What are some of the things that make the job of a volunteer coordinator unique from other jobs in law enforcement?
The nature of what I do requires a broad, birds-eye view of what’s going on in the Department, so I can look for new opportunities to involve volunteers where appropriate anywhere in the Department. Most other jobs focus on just one aspect of operations. This job also is almost 100% relationship-based: I need to sustain good relationships not only with my volunteers but with staff as well, so that they continue to support and welcome volunteers into the work environment. I have to reconcile and mesh, if you will, the hierarchical, paramilitary, regimented nature of a police department with a civilian volunteer program that, by its own nature, has to operate with a less directive and more supportive philosophy. I’m the go-between that makes that balance work. There is no other position in the Department that walks that tightrope.
What is a typical day on the job like for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day! I may be working on a background investigation for a prospective volunteer candidate; working on a recognition event; helping solve a problem related to someone’s computer access issues; arranging/coordinating training requirements; preparing program statistics for my manager; meeting with staff to discuss a possible new assignment; responding to a request for assistance from another agency; reviewing and revising part of our policy and procedure manual; heading out to have some face time with volunteers who work off-site at one of our Community Stations; doing a ride-along to help maintain good relations with the officers… There’s a lot of variety about the job and that’s one thing that I love.
Any other tips for a prospective law enforcement volunteer manager?
The most effective people I’ve met in this job have strong leadership skills, as opposed to being just good managers or coordinators: the phrase I use when I teach my leadership workshop is that as leaders they set a vision, set a course, and set an example. They understand that the volunteers look to them to be an advocate and for guidance, and that staff look to them to make sure that the organization’s mission is not compromised by any aspect of the program. In my opinion the most important qualities for someone to be happy and successful in this job include a sense of humor (huge!), creativity in problem solving, persistence, the ability to set your own ego aside in service to the Department and your volunteers, skills as a negotiator/mediator, and the ability to adapt your personal communication style to relate to others in whatever way is most effective for them rather than for you.