Our Views: Janesville Police Department’s call for volunteers is reasonable step

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Gazette editorial board
August 13, 2015

Janesville residents are blessed to live in a city with little crime.

Police Chief Dave Moore aims to keep it that way—despite his forecast of budget troubles. That’s why he’s smart to seek volunteers to help with office tasks.

Janesville always has been a relatively safe place to live, work and raise families. Sure, drug users encourage dealers and commit crimes to feed their habits. But our city has avoided the bloodbaths that have plagued Beloit to the south while being sandwiched between Rockford and Milwaukee, where shootings are too frequent.

Our police keep the lid on troubles while being understaffed. As Frank Schultz reported Tuesday, if Janesville mirrored Beloit in officers per thousand in population, our city would have 22 more officers. Janesville is short 12 when comparing officers per thousand residents in similarly sized peer Wisconsin cities.

It’s not like Janesville is catching up. Just the opposite is true. Its latest annual report shows the department had 102 sworn officers in 2014, down two from 2010.

How do they do it? In large part, through creative policing. Moore’s team has built a culture of compassion while tapping national trends that, rather than just reacting, dig at root causes of problems. Building trust and relationships with residents is a priority. The Aug. 4 National Night Out event, which drew swarms of residents young and old to the police station to enjoy food, fun and support the department, was a prime example.

Moore is seeking volunteers adept at computers who could manage mapping software and use spreadsheets to research cases. Other volunteers could handle clerical duties such as filing, phones, data entry and scanning files. While they wouldn’t fingerprint suspects, they could fingerprint teachers and other workers whose employment requires the prints.

If officers handle fewer such tasks, they’d have more time to patrol and enforce traffic laws. They also might get to low-priority complaints such as fireworks and barking dogs more quickly, easing frustrations and tensions among neighbors.

“I think it will be increasingly difficult to provide our current level of service with what I see as the budget pressures of the future,” Moore told Schultz.

“We get to the emergencies, and we handle those, but it takes us time to get to these less-critical incidents.”

Some readers blanch at the volunteer idea. They wonder how police officials can assure that volunteers who would be privy to sensitive information about suspects won’t blab what they know all over town.

Those concerns are excessive. Moore and department leaders would weed out over-exuberant fanatics and “police wannabes” the same way they do so while selecting quality people for paid positions.

Moore has invested more than three decades of faithful, dedicated service to Janesville. Residents should trust and have confidence that his call for volunteers is another reasonable idea to help keep our city safe and sound.

We encourage those considering this volunteerism to step forward.


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