Community Service Officers Help University of Nevada Combat National Police Shortage
These student-filled positions give peace officers more time to respond to priority calls while also creating a hiring pipeline for the department.
Like with nearly all industries, staffing shortages are impacting police departments across the country. In a 2022 survey, two-thirds of law enforcement professionals said police recruitment and retention is the largest issue currently facing law enforcement.
To help combat this growing concern, Eric James, chief of police for the University of Nevada, Reno Police Department-Northern Command, secured funding to add at least one community service officer position to each campus (2:11).
“As we go through hiring issues and getting peace officers in, one of the things we really wanted to do was make sure we still had a lot of focus on the campus[es],” said James, a 2023 Campus Safety Director of the Year finalist. “When we consolidated with a few of our other colleges, they already had community service officers. We started to look at that and saw that model’s been working very well for them for years.”
These student officers almost exclusively spend their time on foot patrol and handle cold calls for service, such as helping a student who is locked out of their dorm, leaving more time for peace officers to handle priority calls for service.
“There are some events that just don’t require a peace officer, but our community service officers are able to go out there and hang out and work at events — even for overtime — and have a presence that is there that allows us, as the police department, to still be there,” said James. “Let’s be honest — some people aren’t comfortable having the police there — that’s fine. But now we have community service officers there with a direct line to the peace officers, so it’s worked out very well for us.”
Adding CSO jobs also creates a path for hiring peace officers.
“One of our community service officers is already in the academy and we’ve got a few others in the pipeline,” said James. “Once they finish their college degrees — because they’re still going to school — it helps us because then not only do they get to finish their college degree but then we get a chance to kind of take them for a test drive and they get to take us for a test drive, and then really see if they fit in with our organization and with the community.”
To establish open lines of communication with the entire student population and not just those interested in a law enforcement career, James teaches a CrossFit class at the University Fitness Center (5:06).
“It gives me a pipeline directly to students. Every day, I also block out time on my calendar to go work out in the same center, so I’m able to work out with students, faculty, and staff, and it offers a much more comfortable and relaxed environment for people to ask questions,” James said. “Almost every day, I get, ‘Hey, I gotta ask you a police question.’ So I think the number one thing is it shows that we’re human when we’re in there. Our officers also work out in there as well and so they see these police officers working out and it creates friendships. It establishes a new dynamic in policing.”
During our interview, James also shared the process of acquiring a facility dog through 4E Kennels and the many ways she has helped the campus community (8:11). Aspen, a Goldendoodle, even made an appearance (12:50).
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