What are the first steps in starting a Sheriff's Auxiliary? How do you build the core staff? How do you establish qualifications? How do your initial officers qualify to participate when the training program doesn't exist yet? How do you determine what the responsibilities of the Auxiliary are and should be? This article is a start on answering those questions for folks in other counties interested in starting their own programs. It is targeted at a Missouri audience because it is Missouri law that we have explored in establishing our own organization, but the process we followed should be applicable to other states even if the answers are different. Links to resources will be provided. This was written as a companion to the Get Prepared Expo presentation "How To Start A Sheriff's Auxiliary" to be given on 4 April 2013 in Lebanon, MO.
[Draft 1.2 - Added link to legal authorities, typo corrections]
The process of creating a successful organization is involved. It will take substantial commitment by volunteers, by the county Sheriff, and from the community. By recording what we have done and working with other counties, we hope to enable you to cut your learning curve and make this happen more quickly, but please do not be deluded: this is not easy.
DO NOT PANIC (yet). Approach it the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
You will probably want to have a copy of our Organizing Document handy to read through as you go along. Your Sheriff or your legal counsel may find our page on Legal Authority useful. It collects the citations we have discovered on where a law enforcement auxiliary falls under Missouri law in one place and may be useful to refer to while researching and developing your own policies.
The Most Critical Step
The first and most critical step is to obtain buy-in from your sheriff. It is a Sheriff's Auxiliary and your county sheriff has to want your help. Getting this buy-in may be easy or it may be hard; it may not even be possible under a particular sheriff.
In the case of Lawrence County, the initial impetus came from two directions: first, the local chapter of the Ozark Property Rights Congress invited our sheriff to a meeting to present and the president of the chapter had periodic private meetings with the Sheriff afterwards to discuss concerns of the local group over the economic situation and the impact this had on local law enforcement operations as well as local property rights concerns. Second, the Lawrence County Sheriff, after the Joplin EF5 tornado, began thinking about the number of deputies which had to be deployed to Jasper County for emergency response operations and the shortfalls created at home. Budget constraints made staff increases necessary to meet both potential mutual assistance responsibilities and assure local routine operations impossible without additional resources.
Lawrence County had a Sheriff's Auxiliary many years and several sheriffs ago which had been fairly unambitious in scope and fell into disuse. The Sheriff and the president of the property rights group wanted to create a new auxiliary to supplement the Sheriff's Office resources but wanted this one to last. This resulted in a request for a proposal by this author and a mission statement which was signed and approved on 29 February 2012. That morning, there was a tornado in Branson, MO, and the sheriff remarked as he signed the paper that, had he done it sooner, he would have volunteers to send to that response effort. In total, the time to develop this consensus and choose a direction took the better part of a year before the organization was actually formed and has been over a year in development since it was formally constituted. Again: patience is a requirement.
Sheriff Brad Delay has indicated his willingness to speak to your sheriff and lend encouragement, but a successful organization will need to demonstrate the support of the community and substantial commitment by its initial volunteers. As you work on convincing your sheriff to start a local program, there are a number of things you can do to set the groundwork and demonstrate that commitment.
Setting the Groundwork
Among this foundational work should be identification of a potential core team and self-education. It should be noted that the initial people who step up have no guarantee of being appointed to specific staff positions when the organization is actually formed. The Sheriff his or her self (we will use "he/his/him" from now on for brevity) will have the final say on that and will commission people he trusts. In some cases there may be legal reasons for selecting specific people (anti-nepotism laws restrict how the Sheriff may employ persons related to him, for instance) or the sheriff may desire persons with specific formal qualifications. The organization serves the community under the Sheriff; one way or another, the community and the Sheriff have to come to an agreement on who will operate it.
Laying the groundwork will require a number of specific skills you should look for in your first volunteers (later we will describe the initial four staff positions they will fill, but it does not have to be a one-to-one match and one person may fill more than one of the needs in this list. DO NOT PANIC.):
- You need someone with excellent writing and communications skills; creating the mission statement and initial paperwork, policies, and training standards will require a lot of writing. Even if you work from what we have done (which should reduce the effort substantially), it will need to be adapted to your county's emergency plan and to the procedures of your sheriff's office. It will need to be taught to new members and communicated to deputies you work alongside. To some extent, this need can be shared across counties, but the workload for a new organization is substantial. Someone has to be able to dedicate significant time to your organization.
- You need someone with substantial clerical and organization skill to keep track of volunteers, paperwork, schedules, meetings and so forth. As this is not one of my strong suits, it is a skill I highly appreciate. Especially keep in mind that your Sheriff and deputies are emergency response professionals: they may be called away and their schedule upended with no notice. Your volunteer staff has to be more organized to cope with this.
- You need someone with accounting and inventory experience of some degree to begin tracking equipment and finances from day zero. Basic skill with spreadsheets and bookkeeping software is sufficient to start.
- It will help immensely if you have an advisor or mentor with law enforcement experience. This may be a deputy in your county but be aware that their time may be constrained. Best is to find someone retired from the law enforcement who understands how a sheriff's office functions and can help bridge the gap between volunteers and professionals. You can muddle along without this, however, if you and your sheriff are patient.
- You will need someone willing to provide legal advice, review proposed paperwork and draft documents (e.g. waivers). If this person is not an attorney, you will need access to an attorney separately for at least some things.
- You need to identify someone to take operational control in the field, preferably with some prior emergency response experience but need not necessarily be law enforcement. Again, keep in mind that the actual choice here will come down to what the Sheriff requires and what makes him comfortable, but you should have one or more candidates in mind.
- You need someone to be in charge of getting this organization started (who may be one or more of the above as well).
- You need someone with computer skills sufficient to set up a web site, calendar, contact lists, etc. I will get into some specific comments on apppropriate tools either here or in a later article, including the team management system (D4H) that we licensed.
- Start considering potential members of the Board of Directors from your community. These should be community stakeholders who are not involved in the Auxiliary directly nor in law enforcement who will help with the long-term planning and help market you to the community. Sheriff buy-in is critical to start an auxiliary, but without community ownership of the organization it cannot survive. This is an excellent way for people to participate whose skills and connections are essential but who are not physically able to be involved in emergency response.
The folks you assemble will need to start developing a skillset specific to this effort. You can, like we did, largely jump in and start swimming, picking up much of it as you go, but I strongly recommend you use the early days of the effort and any time spent convincing your sheriff to take some classes and develop some of these skills:
- Find out if your county or municipality has a Volunteers In Police Service (VIPS) program and what it does. A VIPS program can be an excellent starting point and a springboard into a full-fledged auxiliary as we mean the term.
- Understand ICS and NIMS. The Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) are national standards for coordinating emergency response, particularly complex emergencies which cross jurisdictions and require multiple agencies. Given that you are creating a sheriff's auxiliary to supplement the sheriff's resources in major emergencies, it is likely that you will only be used in complex emergencies. That's the point, isn't it? Not all of the counties and agencies in Missouri fully embrace ICS at this date, but again, because of the goal of an auxiliary to reduce the load on licensed Peace Officers, you are likely to be stuck in the role of liaising/communicating with other organizations rather frequently, always in dire situations, and you will need to know ICS better than the professionals. You can take ICS courses online for free from the Emergency Management Institute. Start with IS-100, 700, and 200 and then start shopping through their course catalog for additional skills.
- Tick off the qualifications you will need early on: get your First Aid certification up to date, learn radio communications, get your CCW, etc., ahead of time if you can. The more you start with, the easier the early stages will be and the sooner you will be useful in the field. We welcome people from other counties at our own training classes.
- I strongly suggest you attend one of our Constitution, Law, and the Auxiliary (CLA-I&II) classes which are required for our volunteers. They set much of the groundwork for the history/authority of the county sheriff and for why what we are doing matters as well as giving you a grounding in property rights, emergency response, and self-defense matters you will need to do your job competently.
- Find out what emergency response organizations, especially volunteer, operate in your county and start developing relationships. Join one of them and actively volunteer until your auxiliary is active (and maintain the relationship afterwards). These are people you will need the good will of to make a new organization successful and these are the people you will work alongside in an emergency deployment. In particular, take the basic Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) course and join your local CERT team if your county has one. Your local ARES/Skywarn (Ham Radio) and Red Cross chapters are also good bets and they will open up training opportunities for you. Be mindful of what these organizations consider to be "their turf" and don't step on toes (at least not accidentally). Identify what is not being done in your county and take careful note. Do not "self-deploy". In other words, unless you happen to be at ground zero of an emergency, do not show up at a disaster and say "What can I do?" Find out before the disaster happens.
- Identify neighborhood watches in your community and develop relationships with them. If you don't have any, start one.
- Our sheriff permits some volunteers from outside our county to participate in the Lawrence County Auxiliary under certain conditions and stipulations, provided that no organization (yet) exists in your county. This can enable a small number of your potential volunteers to participate directly in an active program, obtain the requisite training, and gain experience before participating in yours. This is one way we can preserve and spread institutional knowledge. If interested, please inquire.
- Dig through our website, our posted documents, and our links. We may also provide access to some of our more internal documents to give you an idea how the daily paperwork (e.g. quarterly reports, commissions and enlistments) functions. You may also show up at our regular monthly business meetings (check calendar on the right side of our webpage, but generally the 3rd Tuesday of the month at the Mount Vernon library).
- Start picking up other emergency response and disaster relief courses (and understand the difference) as you have time: other courses from EMI, particularly from the Professional Development Series, the Red Cross, and SEMA. The Red Cross will give you access, generally for free, to their courses (e.g. Shelter Operations) if you sign up as a volunteer. SEMA, the State Emergency Management Agency and MO DHS offers or sponsors courses all over the state on a regular basis. These courses are also a great opportunity to meet and talk to other responders, professional and volunteer.
- If your county has a deputy ride-along program, look into participating so that you can better understand how they work.
If you start down this road and this list has not scared you off, you are doing well.
A Note On Potential Volunteers
As you go through this process, it should be noted that finding the right type of volunteers is critical, especially at first. Your initial staff will set the tone for everything that follows. Do not worry as much about getting people into the right position and responsibility: that can be adjusted, but the character of your candidates is critical. Specifically, you want people focused on service and helping people, not "wanna-be cops" or folks who (just) want a spiffy uniform. You need people who are willing to commit through the rocky initial stages of an organization--- when everyone will ignore you--- and earn the respect of the deputies and other emergency responders. Your people should be willing and capable of becoming leaders. Our commission paperwork says the following:
I hereby solemnly affirm that these candidates are, to the best of my knowledge and belief: honorable citizens, exemplary members of the community, willing of faithful service, not judicially barred from service under arms, and shall be a credit to both the Office of Sheriff and the LCS Auxiliary; attesting on my own honor to the same.
The Sheriff is putting themselves on the line in commissioning an officer (personally, a sheriff in Missouri must post a bond). You must perform your due dilligence and ensure that the candidates are worthy. In particular, know in advance about any potential problems (e.g. background), personality conflicts with persons of note in your county, or relationships with the Sheriff (again, nepotism laws). A sheriff may overlook some problems for a good candidate (and everyone is human), but probably not if you surprise him. Do your homework in advance. You want people who will bring honor to your organization and to the Sheriff's Office.
Initial Paperwork and Your Core Staff
OK, so let's say you have gotten this far and your sheriff is on board. Now what? You need several items of paperwork to actually exist as an organization and be able to operate under the sheriff's office. Some people might use slightly different terms for these documents. That does not matter. What matters is what they contain and that they cover the critical details.
- A formal request-for-proposal: a letter that the Sheriff signs which asks you to propose and submit a Mission Statement and to form an organization. This is what gives you permission to get started.
- An Organizational Document which contains a Mission Statement. This is what lays out your purpose and structure. What is the organization called? Who will be a part of it? What will it do? What are the titles and responsibilities of its staff? How does it interact with the county sheriff's office? How will you train and qualify volunteers? All these questions must be, at least generally, answered. Look at ours for reference. The Mission Statement itself should be inclusive and general. When we get to later steps, you will refine your organization's responsibilities according to your county's Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) and the division of responsibilities in your county, but you don't want to tie yourself down yet. Your county's EOP may change over time and your role may change within it. The Mission Statement should be flexible enough to account for that.
- A recommendation for an initial slate of officers. This is a letter you write identifying the initial officers (you work this out with the Sheriff ahead of time) which is then signed and approved by the Sheriff.
- The Commissions for each of the initial officers. This is the piece of paper where the Sheriff formally 'creates' an officer and gives them authority to act in his name (within the bounds of their position and the mission of the organization). Some care should go into this as it is an important document for the volunteer to save or display.
- The forms for the Oath of Service for each officer being commissioned. This oath will be made verbally and then signed for the record.
You need to put all of these things together in a packet and sit down in a meeting with the Sheriff to go through them and get them signed. If you are already all on the same page, this can happen quickly in an afternoon meeting, otherwise some back-and-forth to make and edit drafts or refine the list of officers may be needed. If you have all of the officer candidates at this meeting, the Sheriff can administer their oaths and sign the commissions right there. Otherwise, the oath shall need to be administered for at least one staff officer who can then admiister and witness the oaths for the others. You then bring their commissions to the Sheriff for signature.
The Organization Document
Our current document is available online for reference. It may be possible to reuse with very little change, though we are refining bits and pieces (particularly descriptions of roles and responsibilities). The important thing is you have to have enough detail in the early stages so that the Sheriff understands what you propose to do and how you propose to do it. Part of your responsibility will be to come up with the additional structure you will need to accomplish it and get that approved as needed. Our initial structure was intended to cover the most critical needs of the early organization and be easy to later reconcile with both ICS and the State Guard structure (32 USC/RsMO 41). I intend a separate article to discuss the research we have done on these matters and the adjustments which will be needed to fully reconcile our staff structure.
The initial staff in our case consisted of four officers: the Commander (myself), the Executive Officer (2nd in command), the Chief of Staff (responsible for keeping everything organized), and the Quartermaster (subordinate to the Chief of Staff and in charge of managing property and finances). These are essentially the four roles needed for any organization to function and equivalent to the Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer you are probably familiar with. Our document references the Continental System of Numbering for staff positions (S-1, S-2... S-9) and relates them to our staff. This is now a standard system in the military, is used in the Missouri state guard structure in RsMO 41 and maps easily to ICS staff positions. We did not fully implement this system initially because we simply did not have enough staff to fill them and did not have enough initial volunteers to warrant that large a staff. It was therefore necessary to have each officer cover multiple roles. We are adding staff as we grow and intend to eventually have all 9 positions represented. It is recommended that a new organization start with the basic four.
A Note On 'Fraternization' :-)
One of the big differences you have with a military company organization and a local volunteer structure is there is no prohibition on relationships among officers. Indeed, our initial four officers consisted of two couples with my wife as the Company Quartermaster. Some careful thought went into this in order to not have one officer report directly to their own spouse. This forced us to work together in our roles as information and paper flowed through. We strongly encourage couples volunteering as couples/families and it has worked quite well for us, but some care must be taken to avoid problems. This also encourages entire families participating in emergency response training (e.g. First Aid) even though the children cannot directly participate in deployment.
Initial Slate of Officers
An example of the letter recommending the slate of initial officers is on this website. It has to accomplish a few things:
- It has to reference the Organization Document you just had signed and approved, making it clear that the officers are submitted in response to a request to actual form the described organization. "In accordance with your request to organize a volunteer auxiliary under the XXXX County Sheriff's Office, and in conjunction with the draft Mission Statement and Organizing Document of this date..."
- Authorize them to begin operating the organization and take any steps necessary to make it functional
- Temporarily wave the training and other requirements. This is critical because your first officers almost certainly won't meet the requirements on day one and substantial work has to be done by the initial staff to even make that possible, including finalizing what the requirements are! In our initial formation, we had to do quite a bit of research to determine what the initial level of training for First Aid was going to be, for instance (depending on whether it was determined that we legally qualified as "First Responders"), and we had to write and teach several of our own courses because what we needed did not actually exist. At some point, you need to issue a statement rescinding this waiver and have a process for moving volunteers through a "cadet" or "applicant" stage before they are enlisted or commissioned.
- Affirm that that the candidates are appropriate, as discussed above.
- List the candidates, their addresses, the ranks and positions they are being appointed to.
- Sign it as the Commander (designate).
- Have the Sheriff sign to approve the slate.
At the moment that this paper is signed, the organization has started its fledgeling existence. You will note that the sample letter is marked up in several places with "incipient", "acting", and "designated". This is because at the time that you write the letter, the organization does not actually exist and your role has not been approved. One has to start somewhere, however, and this is part of the process of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.
The next step is to have the Sheriff administer one or more oaths and sign one or more commissions so that at least one officer is fully ensconsed in their position and has the authority to start the process for others. Subsequent officer slates and commissions must be signed by the Sheriff, but your initial officers can administer the oaths and prepare the paperwork. Enlisted volunteers in our structure are a bit easier than officers because they can be approved between the Chief of Staff and the Commander without requiring direct approval of the Sheriff. Copies of identity documents (e.g. CCW) and training certificates must be made and stored both with the Auxiliary (Chief of Staff) and the Sheriff's Office.
The Oaths of Service and Commission Certificate
These are details but important ones. We borrowed the oaths for commisioned officers and enlisted from the Missouri National Guard. It's basic form is dictated by the state and US Constitutions and is standard. For commissioned officers:
I, _______________________ [print], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and that of the State of Missouri, against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
And for enlisted:
I, _______________________ [print], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and that of the State of Missouri, against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will obey the orders of the Sheriff of Lawrence County and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.
The written oaths are signed and witnessed in triplicate. One copy each goes to the Sheriff, the Chief of Staff, and one copy is kept by the candidate. You may find it useful to purchase a Bible for the organization which can be kept in the file box for administering oaths.
The commissions are also borrowed from the US Armed Forces and follow a traditional form, modified slightly for use at the county level. We print them up on good paper with our logo and emboss them with the organization seal on foil with the Sheriff's signature on the bottom. We wanted to make sure that they were good enough quality that the volunteer can frame them if desired. Volunteers are not paid. Sometimes the details and the small honors are the reward they get, so they are important to get right. When their oath is taken, we provide the volunteer with a set of pin-on insignia appropriate to their rank.
Now that the organization officially exists you can begin acting as one. There are a number of steps you can begin taking:
- Order an embossing seal in the name of the organization for impressing official documents. These can be obtained online for on the order of $30 dollars and should be under the care of the Chief of Staff or the Commander.
- Acquire equipment and petty cash (you are not a non-profit; that's a later step). Your early acquisitions will be fairly boring. The organization is going to need things like file boxes (one with a hasp for a padlock, preferably, for personnel files), folders, and stationary. You will need to carry some of your files into the field on deployment, so something rugged is helpful. We found that a transparent tote was very useful for going back and forth through the Courthouse security in the early days before we were cleared to bypass the checkpoint. The transparent file box could be checked by the guard without having to unlock or open it.
- Because you are now emergency responders, you can access training which would otherwise be expensive or denied. One of the first things you should do is get an account with the Volunteers In Police Service (VIPS) site, register your program, and take their online training course which will talk about how to create a volunteer program working with law enforcement. This will take some back and forth for them to verify your position, but now you have the paperwork to do it. VIPS also has a database of documents, including Volunteer Manuals, from programs all across the country. Even though no other organization is doing exactly what we are, this archive was a treasure trove for writing our own documents.
- Get your local training program up and running for in-house courses.
- Work with your county to obtain IDs (in Lawrence, this is the responsibility of the Emergency Management Director).
- Register a website, set up email, document sharing, and so forth.
- Work on producing your Volunteer Handbook and other necessary documents. Again, you are free to use what we have as models and ask us if you cannot find what you are looking for.
- Request a copy of the county Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). These are usually controlled distribution because they contain contact information for officials, communications frequencies for law enforcement, etc., and because it is important to ensure that every time it gets updated, all out of date copies are replaced. These are usually long documents and it will likely take a good month or so to go through, so start as soon as possible. The EOP will tell you what the responsibilities of the Sheriff's Office are and therefore, will be the basis for your own responsibilities under them (e.g., in Lawrence County, the Sheriff has primary responsibility for Emergency Communications but not Search and Rescue). The EOP will make much more sense if you start working through the EMI PDS (Professional Development Series) Courses online. By the way, one of the wonderful innovations of ICS and NIMS is that acronyms have been forbidden for ES.
- Start writing your training and exercise plan (again, EMI PDS courses will help and provide examples to work from).
In this article, we have covered the basics of what you need to get the organization up and running. Later articles/talks/courses will cover some of the esoteric processes needed to begin integrating with the Sheriff's Office operations and wider emergency response operations. We are currently working on filing for our 501c3 non-profit status which promises to be an adventure of its own. Hopefully this will help you get to that point more quickly and with fewer wrong turns than we did.