Policy Study

Community Law Enforcement

The Success of San Diego's Volunteer Policing Program

Executive Summary

No police department is large enough-nor should it be in a democracy-to keep a community safe on its own. Effective crime prevention requires the active support of citizens-a partnership of the police department and the community. The growing recognition of this truism has resulted in a burgeoning interest in, and implementation of, community policy methods and philosophies in police departments across the country.

The city of San Diego, like many cities, has introduced community policing into its police department. But what makes San Diego’s approach to neighborhood policing truly unique is the unparalled extent to which the police department has made volunteers an integral component of its community policing program.

The San Diego Police Department (SDPD) possesses a volunteer workforce of approximately 800 citizens. These volunteers play a vital role in the department’s vision to engage the community in a problem-solving partnership to reduce crime and positively effect the quality of life in each community. The San Diego experience has demonstrated convincingly the benefits of involving the community in the business of law enforcement. These benefits include:

  • Over $1.5 million worth of policing man hours from volunteers;
  • The addition of several new policing services;
  • Better police/community relations; and
  • Allowing police officers to focus more time on serious crimes.

In addition to providing a case study of San Diego’s extensive use of volunteers in crime prevention, this study offers step-by-step guidelines on issues that should be addressed when developing a volunteer program in any law enforcement agency, such as executive commitment, needs assessments, the development of volunteer roles, liability and confidentiality.

Private and public agencies have realized for decades the value of volunteers in enhancing their workforce. With the advent of community policing in the law enforcement profession, we can begin to tap this potentially unlimited resource with an understanding that volunteers will help promote a closer relationship with the community.