JANESVILLE—Police sometimes call themselves the thin blue line. They might get even thinner, given the state of municipal finances in Wisconsin.
That's why Janesville police are looking for help that won't cost them anything — volunteers.
The department recently sent out requests for volunteers to do a wide variety of tasks.
“Are you ready for the challenge?” the local Voluntary Action Center, recently asked in an item it published for the Janesville Police Department.
The ad went on to list department needs: “clerical, filing, phone, data entry, scanning files and especially anyone with a background in computers.”
The ad went on to say that volunteers could help police in case research, giving department tours, taking vehicles to the city shop for repairs and fingerprinting.
“It's just something we're starting to explore,” said Police Chief Dave Moore. “We realize budgets are very tough, and we think it's an opportunity to keep our officers doing police work while others could support us by doing clerical and more lower level functions.”
Ask Moore about the state of the department's people power, and he'll quickly quote you these statistics:
— If Janesville had the same number of police officers per 1,000 residents that Beloit has, he would have to hire 22 officers.
— If Janesville were to have the same number of officers per 1,000 as its similarly sized “peer cities,” 12 more officers would be needed.
“So we are exceedingly lean and accordingly look for alternatives to serve our community as best we can,” Moore said.
The department has 102 sworn officers and 18 civilian employees, according to its latest annual report. It had 104 sworn officers and 17 civilians in 2010.
On a full-time-equivalent basis, the department had 117.25 employees in 2014, down from 119.5 in 2010.
Whether the city council will continue to fund the department at the current level is a worry.
“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 said.
Lack of resources is most prominent in traffic enforcement, Moore said. Officers often don't enforce traffic laws because they are busy elsewhere.
Low-priority calls such as noise or fireworks complaints often don't get immediate attention, and that can make residents angry, Moore said.
“We get to the emergencies, and we handle those, but it takes us time to get to these less critical incidents,” Moore said.
With more help, the department could mount more crime-prevention efforts, although Moore is “very proud of officers and staff on how much we do, given limited resources.”
The department is responsible for taking fingerprints from teachers and others who need those for their employment. If a volunteer could do that, it would allow a patrol officer to stay on the street, Moore said.
Volunteers would not be called on to fingerprint suspects.
Volunteers who are skilled in managing information on electronic spreadsheets or mapping software could help with investigations, Moore said.
Detectives also could use volunteers to perform Internet searches on suspects and police-file searches to help build case files, Moore said.
Moore said his staff is well aware that some of these tasks involve handling sensitive information, and anyone who applies would be vetted.
“If it works out well for us, I think it would expand in the future and give us more relief on the budget,” Moore said.