Cover photo of downtown Dayton from Pixabay
Since the personal safety of the valued volunteers is a top priority, according to the program’s manager, Neighborhood Officer Assistance (NAO) operations have been suspended until April 15 due to the spread of COVID-19. Included in the suspension of the program is all non-critical department travel, all community engagement activities and all ride-alongs. The suspension length is subject to change depending on the circumstances of the virus. The volunteers were last on duty Thursday, March 12.
For 50 years the Dayton City Police Department Neighborhood Assistance Officers (NAO) program has allowed citizen volunteers to support Dayton law enforcement, according to NAO supervisor Cynthia August.
The NAO program is a nonenforcement group that does not carry weapons, but instead increases visibility of police in the community in an effort to prevent crime, August said. NAO volunteers assist police with traffic control, vehicle accident and fire scenes, stranded motorists, noise and parking complaints, and they check on houses, schools and businesses.
According to August, the program also helps out other departments because the NAOs work on quality of life issues, such as a nonworking streetlight or traffic light. She emphasizes the difference between a police officer’s work and a NAO’s work.
“I tell my folks that we’re kind of the warm and friendly, you know, approach to what we’re doing,” August said.
Ron Magoteaux has been a volunteer in the NAO program for the last six years. When he was laid off and retired, he looked for a volunteer opportunity. He found a fit in the NAO program, especially because his daughter was a police officer before she retired last year.
“I do this to feel like my life means something,” Magoteaux said. “I volunteer for myself. I like to think I am contributing to this surrounding area.”
Magoteaux’s partner, Joey Suhy, with 12 years of experience in the program, cites his love for the city.
“We all wanna do something to keep Dayton going,” Suhy said.
The non-enforcement and visibility approach of the program has been around since its creation. The NAO program started in 1969, after community members requested more police visibility in the neighborhoods. A federally funded grant was given to the city to experiment with a citizen volunteer program. After its success, it became fully instituted in 1970 and is now funded by the Dayton City Police Department budget.
The program operates within a budget of $8,000 annually that covers the expenditures for uniforms, equipment, fleet of vehicles and two honorary events for the volunteers. In 2020, the program will be celebrating its official 50th anniversary. According to August, Dayton was a pioneer in NAO programs, as the model has spread to other cities throughout the U.S.
Low priority calls are the police calls that get passed down to NAOs, while the police officers will take high priority calls. This allows a faster response time for citizens and helps to free up officers for higher priorities, according to August. Because the volunteers are not paid and help the police officers complete their task, August provided information that the city saved $357,776 in 2019 from this program.
There are currently 14 volunteers in the NAO program. August stresses that this is a big commitment for an individual. Each NAO is required to work a 4-hour shift once a week, or 16 hours a month. According to her, in 2019, there were 6,587 service hours, 1,433 dispatch calls to the NAO program and 122 special event requests. These statistics do not include the work that NAOs find while patrolling neighborhoods, only what is radioed to them.
With a big smile, Magoteaux reflects on one of his favorite stories: when he saved a woman who flew out of a car. He and his partner were directing traffic around an accident that took place on U.S. 35. A driver tried to go around where they closed off, but lost control and crashed. The woman was ejected out of the car and landed on the grass screaming that she was going to die. Through first aid training, Magoteaux was able to treat the woman until more help arrived.
“There is a little of an adrenaline rush to this,” Magoteaux said with a laugh, as he continues to point out every street corner where he helped someone.
The process to become a NAO includes a preliminary background check, a chat with August about motivation and commitment, another background check that is the same as a police officer’s, a ride-along with a current NAO and 60 hours of classroom training.
The classroom training includes classes at the Citizens Police Academy for 12 weeks of two-hour classes every Thursday. There are also specialized classes with August that include training in personal safety, policy and procedures of the police department, traffic incident management system, which is a nationwide protocol for large events, first aid training, Narcan training and CPR. After the class, the volunteer rides with an experienced NAO for six months, then partners up with another NAO to take a 4-hour shift every week.
The last class of NAOs was two years ago according to August. Out of 16 applicants, she only pursued nine. Only six of the nine passed the background check, and four ended up doing training after the initial ride along. After the training, only two were able to fully commit to the program. If you are interested in applying to the program, please complete this application.
The NAO program recently won the Leadership in Volunteer Police Service Programs Award. It recognizes volunteer programs that demonstrate innovative and effective practices for improving service delivery to their communities. The award was presented in October at the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Chicago.