The Next Step in Mutual Aid

Mutual aid agreements for members of law enforcement have been around since the early days of town marshals. However, when it comes to mutual aid agreements for the use of "other than" sworn officers, it's far more the exception than the rule when...

One of the greatest aspects of law enforcement is the willingness of agencies and their sworn members to respond to the call for help from their fellow members. When the call goes out for "officer needs help," it's an awesome sight to see the overwhelming response from available local, state and federal agencies and personnel to that call. Agencies you may have never heard of come out to assist, in addition to federal agents and investigative services. These may not typically roll "Code 3" to calls, but they will do so in a heartbeat, not knowing any more than that a fellow member of law enforcement has asked for help. It's a lesson many other government agencies could well learn from, as our nation would be much better for it.

A Mother's Cry for Help.

In September of 2003, a young 18-year old-female was reported missing from Redlands, California, a mid sized bedroom community. Also known as the Navel Orange Capital of the World, Redlands is located 70 miles east of downtown Los Angeles in San Bernardino County. Her mother, a chief petty officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, was on active duty serving in Iraq as part of the port security detail. A BOLO was issued for the missing 18-year-old and her vehicle. Information gathered led detectives to believe her body would be found in one of the many orange groves in their city. Armed with this information, the detectives decided it was prudent to conduct a search of the city's orange groves to search for her body. The challenge they faced was how to search the dozens of square miles of orange groves.

Volunteers Respond

Although the Redlands Police had, at the time, a force of approximately 60 officers and a small, yet highly dedicated group of citizen volunteers, the number of personnel needed to walk every row of the city's orange groves was a daunting task, at best. Fortunately for the Redlands Police Department, their agency was located within the County of San Bernardino, the largest county geographically in the nation and home to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, with 1,400 deputies and over 2,000 well trained and active citizen volunteers. The SBCSD volunteer force is made up of approximately 800 citizen patrol volunteers, 400 search and rescue members, reserve deputy sheriffs, an equestrian patrol, Explorer scouts, chaplains and several other specialized volunteer units.

Recognizing the need for "force multipliers" to help with the search, the Redlands Police contacted the San Bernardino Sheriff's Volunteer Forces Unit on a Friday afternoon, seeking their assistance to provide some of their department's volunteers to assist with the search. That afternoon the call went out to the over 17 SBCSD stations, asking for volunteers to assist the Redlands Police with the search the next day. By 5:00 am the following day, less than 12 hours after receiving the calls, over 140 sheriff's volunteers, consisting of citizen patrol and SAR members, arrived at the staging center to prepare for the massive search effort. Armed with this team of 140 additional personnel, the Redlands Police were able to form 14 teams with one officer per ten SBCSD volunteers, to walk every row of the orange groves looking for signs of a shallow grave or an exposed body. Using a well-planned search grid, the combined forces were able to clear all the city's orange groves by 1:00 pm that day. Sadly, it was later learned that while the young teen's body was in fact buried in an orange grove, it was in a neighboring city, and was later discovered.

The Volunteer Equation

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