Dec. 30 marked the end of an era for the Milan Police Department.
Milan Police Chief Mark Beckwith said that new training rules for auxiliary police in Illinois have forced the disbanding of the city’s auxiliary unit that for 42 years added police presence to the streets during times of floods and festivals, windstorms, snowstorms, parades, concerts and city events.
“The unit was truly community policing in every sense of the word,” Beckwith said.
Many of the auxiliary officers worked in other careers but wanted to give back to the community, he said, while students used the job to gain experience to be a police officer or to decide whether they wanted a career in law enforcement.
But they all cared about serving their community in some way, Beckwith said.
Some of those auxiliary officers now work full-time for Rock Island, Moline, Davenport and other area police agencies. Others have made law enforcement careers in such large cities as Dallas and Atlanta.
On Dec. 31, Illinois required all auxiliary police officers to complete the 400-hour mandatory basic law enforcement training course that regular officers complete.
While Beckwith is saddened by the lost of the auxiliary, he said he understands the state’s concerns because of insurance coverage.
“Unfortunately, we live in a litigious society,” he said. People are ready to sue quickly and (city insurance policies are) not going to cover officers who have not completed the training, he added.
While the city would like to pay for the training of the auxiliary, budget concerns prevent it, he said. And while there was a time when future officers could pay their own way through the training course, that is no longer allowed, he said.
Rock Island disbanded its auxiliary force a few years ago when John Wright was chief.
“We were seeing a lot of the legislation coming down as far as the training mandates, and we couldn’t support our program based on those changes,” Rock Island Deputy
Police Chief Jeff VenHuizen said.
“The changes were becoming so restrictive and how (auxiliary officers) had to be supervised, it just wasn’t feasible to maintain the unit in terms of both time and cost,” VenHuizen said.
Several of Rock Island’s current officers started in the city’s auxiliary program, he added.
“It provided some beneficial training and gave you some idea of the individual you were going to get,” VenHuizen said.
Wright, who retired from the Rock Island Police Department in 2010, said that 20 years ago the auxiliary officers were more involved with sworn officers as supervisors.
But that changed over time, and before Rock Island disbanded its auxiliary, many of those officers rode with officers infrequently because they were working full-time jobs, he added. “They could only put in so much time,” Wright said.
In Iowa, the Scott County Sheriff’s Department maintains an active reserve unit, Sheriff Dennis Conard said.
“During last winter’s blizzard, reserve deputies volunteered over 200 hours,” Conard said of the unit. “When Obama was here, 300 hours. Every Friday and Saturday night, two reserve officers are out in a squad car as a supplement to the deputies already out there.
“If there’s a parade, you’re usually going to see reserves doing traffic control,” he said. “That includes the Bix, Turkey Trot and Tugfest.”
Conard started his career as a reserve officer while studying law enforcement at St. Ambrose University, Davenport.
About five years ago, the state mandated training that a reserve deputy must complete, he said.
Scott County worked with community colleges to provide the classroom work, after which the reserve cadets performed in-service training with the Sheriff’s Department to complete their certification.
Would-be reserve deputies pay for their own training initially, Conard said.
“If they give me one year of service after the training then we will reimburse them their training expenses,” he added.
“In today’s world of litigation and legal issues, standardized training is not a bad idea,” he said.