Community Service Officer model makes sense for community policing
Do you need to carry a badge and a gun in order to tell a resident to clean up the trash in their front lawn? How about to take the report from a crash scene or write a ticket for someone parked in front of a fire hydrant?
The village of Rib Lake has answered “No” to those questions and recently passed an ordinance creating a community service officer (CSO) position. The ordinance reads, in part, “CSO duties may include, but are not limited to, traffic control, desk duty, assisting motorists locked out of vehicles, animal complaints and control, village ordinance and parking enforcement, taking of criminal and non-criminal reports, conducting station tours, and fingerprinting for non-criminal purposes.” Other key features of the CSO are that, while they are uniformed, they have limited authority to arrest people and don’t carry firearms.
In any profession, from medicine to banking, there is a hierarchy of positions and responsibilities from the low-level generalists with little authority to act independently to specialists in a particular area who can speak and act with total authority. Law enforcement should be no different. Having sworn officers enforcing parking rules or being on the lawn patrol is, in many ways, equivalent to a heart surgeon checking out a patient’s ingrown toenail or a commercial lender opening a child’s savings account.
In either case, it amounts to the question of the best utilization of resources and the opportunity for wasting time and resources which could be better spent elsewhere. When it comes to ever-tightening municipal budgets, it makes a lot of sense to leave police officers to do the job of catching criminals and civilian CSOs the jobs related more to keeping the peace and working with residents for resolution of complaints or showing a police presence to deter people from making poor choices at community events. With CSOs paid less than sworn officers, and not having as much overhead insurance due to not being issued sidearms, they provide a balance to allow municipalities to maintain community policing efforts while maximizing budget dollars.
Law enforcement has been largely a one-size-fits all approach with sworn officer specialists filling all roles. The creation of CSO positions allows for the better utilization of resources for the department and also opens the door to other types of specialists that work in areas beyond the knocking down doors and arresting the bad guys that are part of the popular culture in movies and television.
CSOs allow departments to fulfill their mission to serve while leaving it up to sworn officers to focus on protecting residents and their property and bringing down the bad guys.