KENNEWICK, Wash. -- A high volunteer turnover rate is affecting the work that gets done by Kennewick police.
They rely on volunteers to tackle certain safety projects. This saves taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. But without those helpers, police have to fill the role.
John Murphy is indispensable in his "second career." He helps Kennewick police track criminals. John doesn't get paid, but he puts in the kind of hours equivalent to a part-time job.
"It's been as high as 1,300 hours a few years ago," Murphy said.
John is part of the "CHIPS" program. It stands for Citizens Helping in Police Services. Kennewick Police rely on volunteers from CHIPS to handle the important work they don't get time for - things like restocking squad cars, writing tickets for disabled parking violations, and putting up radar reader boards.
KPD took a hit when they lost six volunteers last year. They try to have an average of 20 people who help out. When numbers are down, patrol officers must pick up some of the slack. If officers are doing busy work, they can't be where you'd like to see them.
"That's something that's gone back to the traffic division," said Sgt. Mark Weber. "What we'd rather do is have them focus on target intersections where we're having accidents, things that statistics show we need to focus on."
CHIPS volunteers equal the work of three salaried employees.
People like John help save taxpayers nearly $200,000 a year.
"In the long run, if we don't have a good organization, we don't function well," John said.
Kennewick boasted its lowest crime rate in a decade in numbers released early last year. That's why the department knows keeping volunteers in the station helps keeps boots on the street to focus on safety in our community.