Accountability and the Use of Volunteer Officers in Public Safety Organizations

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Government programs increasingly depend on volunteers to compensate for lagging fiscal support while engaging the citizenry in public service. However, the use of volunteers may raise important questions of accountability in the delivery of public services. We consider accountability in the use of volunteers in the special case of reserve police officers. Reserve officer management provides an especially valuable prism for understanding the larger issues of accountability in public organizations' use of volunteers. The mission of policing agencies requires special attention to citizen rights, the proper use of discretion, and agency accountability. Using Romzek and Dubnick's model of accountability relationships, we examine reserve officer use in selected jurisdictions in the western United States. We find that police departments vary greatly in the methods employed to ensure accountability for reserve officers and that existing legal standards offer a great deal of latitude to departments in the use of reserves. We argue that the inconsistent application of mechanisms to ensure accountability in public-sector volunteer venues such as reserve office programs offers no guarantee about whether these programs enhance the capacity of public organizations to deliver services.

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