Events like the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival or the Breslau air show usually have large amount of police presence but the majority of those boys and girls in blue are in fact auxiliary police officers, a volunteer position. This year the Waterloo Regional Police Service Auxiliary unit is looking to add 10 new faces to its ranks. The unit is made up of a diverse group of volunteers who provide support during community events, parades and public safety awareness campaigns.
Becoming an auxiliary police officer is no easy feat. There is a two-year commitment required for anyone who makes it through the rigorous application process.
“It takes the department a lot to hire someone, not just in the recruiting process but the training process and the equipment process,” said Constable Jason Boutcher, the auxiliary coordinator for the WRPS. “We have a lot of money and time invested in them by the time we have hired them on.”
There is a mandatory 50 hours of training required before anyone becomes an auxiliary police officer.
“The screening is pretty rigid. We have roughly 10 applicants for every hire and a lot of people find that at the end of the whole process it is harder than any job they have actually applied for,” he explained.
During the process an extensive background search is done. Applicants then go through a spelling and written comprehension test that is identical to the constable selection process. From there, they get ranked and the top 15 applicants are interviewed for 10 spots.
“We hold a behavioral-based interview. Once they get past that they go into the background investigation and we dig quite deep and follow up on all the references: we talk to their neighbours because they do wear a uniform and it looks very similar to a police officer and to the person on the street they will look like a police officer,” said Boutcher.
The differences between a police officer’s uniform and an auxiliary officer are hard to spot.
Auxiliary officers wear the same uniforms but have a checkered hat band and the auxiliary crest is displayed front and back. There are a few use-of-force options missing from the duty belt, as well, including pepper spray and a firearm.
They do carry handcuffs and a baton and have powers of arrest.
“If a cop and an auxiliary officer went to a bar and two people are fighting and run in different directions, the cop would chase one down and the auxiliary would be able to chase the other down and has the same power to arrest the individual as the police officer.”
For those interested in becoming a police officer as a career the auxiliary program could open a lot doors but it will close some too.
“The thing that works in a candidates favour is that they apply to the police service knowing what the police service is all about,” said Bouthcer. “It is a lot more convincing to a recruiter when they know you are coming at it with your eyes open as becoming a police officer is a lifestyle change.”
The other side of the equation is that when auxiliary officers are in uniform they are highly scrutinized by not only the public but the police service as well, and if they were to act unprofessionally that would end their chance of becoming a police officer.
For Elmira resident Ryan Schaefer, becoming a police officer has been a dream of his since being a kid. The commerical painter was sworn into the auxiliary service earlier this year.
“I didn’t even know the auxiliary even existed until a year ago,” said Schaefer. “I really wanted to be a police officer and I was looking for some kind of volunteer service that would provide exceptional training and I was introduced to the program through a family friend.”
Schaefer mainly attends events in Waterloo and Elmira as part of north division.
During his training it was the hands-on classes that Schaefer enjoyed the most, including directing traffic and the use-of-force instruction.
“We don’t just direct traffic, we show officer presence and walk through crowds and talk to people, especially kids. People see the uniform and they behave around you, it is all about public relations,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer participates in ride-alongs and K-9 training exercises, which contribute to the 144 hours per year he volunteers in assisting police operations.
“They are ambassadors for the service. For most of our patrol officers it is call to call – we take reports and investigate crime – but as auxiliary there is an opportunity to interact with kids and families,” said Boutcher.
Anyone interested in joining the auxiliary police must have their application in by Nov. 18.
Forms are available online at www.wrps.on.ca/careers/now-recruiting.