On a regular basis, I have people ask me variations on the question: "If I cannot volunteer for the Sheriff's Auxiliary (physical limitations, work schedules, etc), what can I do to help?" This article will go into part of the answer by helping people to understand what it costs to volunteer and where some of those costs go. This breakdown may also help people who are planning to start a volunteer emergency response organization understand what they are getting into.
In order to be useful in the field, volunteers need to obtain and maintain basic equipment, some of which is provided personally, some paid for by the unit, and some paid for by the Sheriff's Office. Because volunteers are already investing time in deployment, training, and exercise, we try to keep the out-of-pocket costs for personnel as low as we can. On the other hand, we make hard use of our equipment in life-critical situations, so what we get has to be good enough to do the job. The equipment mass-packaged in CERT emergency packs, for instance, is often of terrible quality and may fail in its first use. Equipment failures endanger volunteers and victims we are attempting to help.
Basic Uniform and Equipment
Volunteers need uniform components to operate in the field for several days and to work in different kinds of events from semi-formal to disaster-relief-in-mud-and-muck. They also need both a Go-Bag to get through the first 12-20 hours of field deployment and an Extended Field Bag (EFB) for multi-day of deployments. The requirements for hard wear and safety make boots and jackets among the largest expenses. One night's patrols can put 15 miles or more on a pair of boots.
- Uniform ~$300
- 2x uniform polo
- patched uniform shirt
- pins, patches, insignia
- jacket ($80+)
- duty boots ($80-$150)
- 2xTDU pants
- 2-Way Public Service/Ham radio ($100+)
- Go-Bag, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), starter gear ($60-$100)
This puts the cost of basic kit to field one volunteer at about $500, not including camping gear, service firearm and ammunition, airsoft safety gear and equipment for training, class A (formal dress) uniforms, vehicle response kits, or specialist kits (e.g.: communications, chaplain, medical). Outfitting 20 volunteers therefore costs about $10,000.
Licensing and Certifications
We teach a number of required courses in house and offer them to the community at large. A good deal of additional training is provided free by other organizations or available to us through the Sheriff's Association or SEMA/FEMA. Some certification costs are unavoidable, however, and often must be paid by the volunteer:
- Missouri CCW (required)
- First Aid/CPR/AED (required)
- Emergency Medical Responder (recommended)
- Radio licensing (Amateur Radio and GMRS)
- Tactical training courses (e.g. 3-day handgun or rifle, by specialty)
- Professional licensing such as instructor certifications or Certified Emergency Manager
An enlisted recruit requires nearly 100 hours of training either at or immediately after enlistment. NCOs and officers end up with several hundred hours of training, and specialists/instructors bring degrees or professional licensing.
The cost of training venues, materials (books, CDs, practice equipment), and consumables can be significant even for the training we provide in-house with volunteer instructors.
What Is the Time Worth?
This a whole topic by itself, but the average value of a generic volunteer hour is estimated at $23.07 nationwide ($21.30 for Missouri) . The cost of a generic "law enforcement worker" hour is $24.57. One night of cattle patrols might log 32 hours ($681.60). An event like Apple Butter Making Days or the patrols we did during the spree of burglaries in Mount Vernon involves hundreds of volunteer hours (maybe $8500 per deployment). We also typically work hours and long shifts which would cost extra at a fair market rate as well as spending significant time off-duty/on call.
So, the number one way that people can help (besides volunteering) is to defray costs of basic kit, either by donating money (Adopt a Volunteer!), donating required equipment (e.g. standards-compliant hard-hats and vests, Part 90 radios, rugged field packs), or significant discounts on tools and safety equipment. Another big win is assisting us with training venues and costs.