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Agencies Struggle to Attract Reserve Officers

Two officers were at a restaurant having lunch when a crackling radio voice froze them in mid-chew, "Baby, non-breather."

October 01, 1996  |  by John Pentelei-Molnar

Two officers were at a restaurant having lunch when a crackling radio voice froze them in mid-chew, "Baby, non-breather." The younger officer, his third day in the field, recognized the address to be a motel directly next door to the restaurant. He and his partner hur­ried out the door. Numerous scenarios flashed through the rookie's mind as he ran toward the motel, his veins pumping with adrenaline. This was his chance to do what he had waited a lifetime and seven long academy months for: to save a baby's life.

The rookie flung the wood door open and rushed to the stricken child. But the baby had been deceased for several hours, the victim of a tragic death.

During the drive home, he struggled with the anger and disappointment every new officer feels while learning the stark realities of a day on the job. He knew he would recover, but he also knew he would never be the same. Moreover, he would not be able to relay the experi­ences of his weekend around the water cooler on Monday. He would have no squad, no FTO, to discuss these issues with.  You see, this rookie was a reserve officer.

Critical Reserve Contributions

Regardless of a police agency's size, a quality reserve and volunteer organization can be vital to the protection of the community, the public's perception of Jaw enforcement and the effectiveness of crime prevention programs.

Lt. Tony Gregory is a typical example of how critical reserve officers can be to municipalities, particularly in smaller cities. Gregory, who is vice president and general manager of an audio important company, is also the department firearm train­er and reserve lieutenant for the Cumberland (Ind.) Police Department. He is quick to point out the crucial role his reserve officers' play.

"We have seven paid officers and 10 reserves at Cumber­land," Gregory says. "This department couldn't function with­out its reserves."

All of Cumberland's officers are designated Level A, which means they have full peace officer powers both on and off duty.

"All of our officers are well-respected and have a good relationship with the paid officers," explains Gregory. "Of course, we want them to know we can do our job."

Even in larger departments, the impact of reserve efforts can be felt. Gregory was a reserve deputy for the Marion County (Ind.) Sheriff's Department prior to coming to Cum­berland. Marion County is the most populated area in the state and includes Indianapolis within its boundaries.

"Marion County has about 140 reserve deputies, many of whom have take-home cars. That's how important they are to the livelihood of the Sheriff's Department," Gregory says. "The county saves about $1 million a year in operational costs by using reserves."

The San Diego Police Depm1ment is another agency that benefits from reserve contributions. With a growing reserve force of more than 60 Level 1 officers, Reserve Coordinator Sgt. Bridget Barnett says that more than 35,000 man-hours were worked in 1995 by reserve officers. "That's a lot of hours that the city didn't have to pay (for) to keep a police officer on the streets," says Barnett.

Retired Cmdr. Chuck Adams agrees. Adams, who retired after 24 years with the Los Gatos (Calif.) Police Department, now helps head the California Reserve Peace Officers Associ­ation (CRPOA). Adams says that there are about 14,000 reserve officers in California.

"This number includes all levels of reserves from volun­teer technicians, disaster response teams and Level I full peace-powers officers," declares Adams. "But even if you factor in a very minimal number of 12 hours of service a month, that means over 2 million hours of volunteer service a year. And that's being very conservative."

Adams points to several examples of reserve success at his own department. "Los Gatos is a town of about 28,000. On weekends, because of tourists, it usually doubles in size. The chief has said many times that he couldn't function with­out reserves because of the staffing problems inherent in fluctuating populations."

The 1994 World Cup extravaganza proved the mettle of reserves. "We had the Brazilian team staying in Los Gatos," Adams explains. "On a typical night, we had over 100,000 people visiting. Without reserves, the city would have been in trouble."

Training Concerns

Full-time officers often express concern about the lack of sufficient training in some reserve programs. The inherent nature of a reserve officer dictates that he will typically have some other paid job that supports his family, occupies his week­days, etc. But the exceptional demands of law enforcement also require that a reserve officer spend enough time in training.

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