The Police Chief - December 2011 - (Page 76)

“Just a Volunteer”: Supporting An Agency’s Volunteer Program through Difficult Times By Marjorie Trachtman, Certified Volunteer Administrator, Volunteer Coordinator, Bellevue, Washington, Police Department volunteer with whom they work. In either case, the cumulative emotional toll among staff of watching their volunteer coworkers age, become ill, and pass away can be devastating. This is not a topic people like to discuss, but how an agency reacts to and handles volunteer losses has a very real effect on everyone involved. It says a lot about how much an agency values its volunteer program. When asked, most departments proudly say that their volunteers are vital to their daily operations and are considered to be part of their police family. However, although agencies always have written policies that address serious illness and death among uniformed and noncommissioned staff, it is rare that they do the same for their civilian volunteers. Why that is, is open for speculation; in some cases, it is just not something anyone ever thinks about, or, sometimes, agency leaders may not feel that it is their place to become involved. Whatever the reason, the value of formalized policies cannot be overstated. They convey a message of concern, compassion, and community that extends beyond the volunteers themselves to their families, their friends, and their neighbors. Formalized policies also provide a measure of support and strength to staff members who are most susceptible to the emotional exhaustion that comes from dealing so often with illness and death in people they care about. In December 2007, at 80 years old, Kay was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. She had no family; over her eight years of volunteer service, the people of the Bellevue, Washington, Police Department had become her family. Department members visited her at the hospice many times during the three months she was there. The volunteer coordinator asked the hospice staff to call her when it was clear that Kay was near death. They did, and the volunteer coordinator was at Kay’s bedside as she passed. After about nine years of volunteering as the department quartermaster, Gene learned that he had debilitating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and esophageal cancer. He had been ill off and on throughout the previous year but even after the terminal diagnosis, he continued coming to work every morning until he simply could not do so anymore. When he was hospitalized near the end, the officers he worked with decided to hold their somewhat raucous monthly staff meeting at his hospital bedside to show him that he was still part of the group and to keep his spirits up. He died about a week later. His wife subsequently told the volunteer coordinator just how much that simple act meant to Gene and the family. “Gene talked about that meeting until the very end. Our family couldn’t believe you would do something so thoughtful for someone who was just a volunteer,” she said. At Gene’s memorial service, his volunteer work with the department was prominently featured. Pauline, age 85, had been a volunteer for 15 years and was a favorite among all who knew her. She didn’t show up for her shift one day, and the officer who worked with her became concerned. He went out to her home and found her unconscious on the bathroom floor, having suffered a massive stroke. He summoned medics who transported her to the hospital, then contacted family members and the volunteer coordinator who arrived at the hospital shortly after the medics. Later that afternoon, Pauline was taken off life support at the family’s request, and, with the family, the department’s volunteer coordinator, and the officer surrounding her bedside, she died. At her memorial service, the department’s honor guard escorted the family into and out of the chapel and the officer with whom Pauline had worked all those years delivered a eulogy. There were many uniformed, civilian, and volunteer staff in attendance. B y now, the benefits of citizen law enforcement volunteer programs are well established. However, the stories above illustrate one aspect of these programs that rarely, if ever, gets discussed: the inevitable illness and death among an agency’s volunteer staff. Most civilian volunteer programs rely heavily on retired folks who begin their involvement in their 50s, 60s, or 70s, and it is not uncommon for volunteers to remain with an agency for 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, or more. Some agencies have programs that partner with the American Association of Retired Persons and other senior organizations, and some programs are designed exclusively to accept seniors for volunteer service. During 76 THE POLICE CHIEF/DECEMBER 2011 their course of service, it is inevitable that serious or terminal health issues will arise and with far more frequency than among paid staff because of the age demographics. Sometimes, these volunteers have no family living close by or have no family at all, which makes their association with the agency even more important as they move through this life phase. Over the years of working together, staff members and volunteers frequently develop real friendships that are impacted by life events. In particular, the nature of volunteer program coordinators’ jobs means that they most likely have established close relationships with each and every volunteer, whereas individual staff members may be close to only the Bellevue’s Volunteer Death Policy Development The Bellevue Police Department’s volunteer program was formally established in 1994, but it was not until several years later that it found itself faced with this issue. In the first few years of operation, when a volunteer became seriously ill or died, a discussion ensued about what the department should do in that particular case. What actions ultimately were taken came down to how popular the volunteer was, how many people worked with the volunteer, and how strongly a staff person advocated for action. Decisions for each individual case required approvals up the chain of command, which was cumbersome and time-consuming. This inconsistency created confusion and, occasionally,

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Police Chief - December 2011

President’s Message: The Time for a National Commission Has Come
Legislative Alert: National Criminal Justice Commission Legislation Falls Short of Passage
IACP Foundation: Fueled Up to Fund the Foundation: Harley-Davidson Raffle Kicked Off at Conference
Chief’s Counsel: Postincident Video Review
From the Assistant Director: The U.S. Secret Service Partners with State, Local, and International Law Enforcement to Pursue the World’s Most Wanted Cybercriminals
Advances & Applications
Taking the Straw Man to the Ground: Arguments in Support of the Linear Use-of-Force Continuum
How Police Can Use Hospital Laws to Speed Processing in Hospital Emergency Departments
On Choosing the Right Operational Police Physician
Report of the 118th Annual IACP Conference: Chicago
Board of Officers
General Assemblies
IACP Business
Exhibit Hall
Special Events
Thank You, Chicago
Life Members
New Members
Exhibitor Update
Intelligence-Led Policing: The Future Is Now
“Just a Volunteer”: Supporting An Agency’s Volunteer Program through Difficult Times
Providing Effective Policing for Aboriginal Communities
The IACP and Alcatel-Lucent Present International and Domestic Police Officer of the Year Awards
2011 Author Index
2011 Subject Index
Technology Talk
Index to Advertisers
Highway Safety Initiatives

The Police Chief - December 2011