Berryville may soon have four additional uniformed police officers thanks to a plan being put forward by Berryville Police Chief Neil White. White told Berryville’s Police and Security committee last week that a supplemental auxiliary officer program can boost the town’s law enforcement resources at minimal expense to taxpayers.
Chief White told committee members Mary Daniel (Ward Three), David Tollett (Ward Four) and Town Manager Keith Dalton that hiring four auxiliary police officers to supplement Berryville’s existing eight-officer force will not only provide additional help with special events but also provides the chance to tap specialized training that the volunteer officers may have gained from other law enforcement assignments.
“We’re looking to fill the positions with officers that are already certified” White said. “Many of the federal law enforcement people in our area, like people from the Department of Homeland Security, have very specialized skills like computer forensics training” White said. “That type of training is very valuable and can be hard to maintain in a small police force.
White said that Berryville’s proximity to the Washington DC metro-area means that there is a pool of federal law enforcement professionals living in the area. According to White, the federal jobs are often administrative and prompting some officers to retain certification as Virginia police officers. In order to retain certification, officers need professional training, something that White says his department can provide in exchange for the officer’s volunteer commitment to Berryville.
Each new officer will need to participate at least 16 hours per month in order to stay active in the auxiliary program. White said that he plans to use the auxiliary officers in a number of different ways.
“They’ll be assigned to fill in for officers on vacation, help with events like parades or special enforcement efforts like â€˜Click It or Ticket’” White said. “They can also help us avoid overtime costs.”
White said that while overtime costs aren’t currently a problem, the auxiliary program can help his department get ahead of the potentially costly expense.
“We provide the officers with uniforms, equipment and training” White told the committee. “All of the pieces are in place and we’ll be ready to go with this as soon as it is approved.”
White said that Berryville’s ordinance authorizing the use of auxiliary officers, modeled on an ordinance currently being used in Front Royal, Virginia, has been reviewed by town attorney Robert Mitchell and will be presented for full town council review in May.
While the benefits of having an auxiliary force are significant, there will be some incremental cost to Berryville for implementing the program.
“We decided to start with four officers to begin with” White said. “That’s half of what we currently have on staff. Adding four new officers will be a big task for our training officer and we don’t want to overwhelm our current resources.”
While the auxiliary officer program has the potential to save the Town of Berryville significant money, there will be some cost outlay associated with implementing the program. White told the Police and Security committee that in addition to picking up the costs of uniforms and training, the town will also be responsible for covering the auxiliary officer’s “Line of Duty” coverage.
Line of Duty coverage provides a death benefit payment and a range of other support benefits to the families of police officers killed in the line of duty. Even so, White said, that the line of duty coverage for auxiliary officers is only 25% of the cost for full time officers.
Line of duty cost for a full-time officer is approximately $234 per year and historically has been covered by the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to Berryville Town Manager Keith Dalton, changes in the Virginia Retirement System have now shifted the line of duty costs to the local governments and costs are expected to increase.
“We don’t have specific figures yet but we have been warned to expect increases in the future” Dalton said.