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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

The training requirements for reserve officers vary greatly from state to state. Gregory says the training requirements in his state change from department to department.

"The state of Indiana initially requires a minimum of 40 hours of training to become a reserve officer, with an addi­tional 12 weeks of training to be completed within the first year," says Gregory. "In order to be hired as a paid officer, you must attend a state-approved academy. There are only three in the entire state."

Other agencies, like the Marion County Sheriff's Depart­ment, have their own reserve academy.

"It's very much a hard-core, spit-shine, 480-hour academy. Unfortunately, not all reserves go through it," says Gregory.

Interestingly enough, the Marion County academy is not state-certified, so any officer who trains there must repeat the identical process at a slate academy if he or she wants to be hired as a paid officer. This redundancy can be troubling for those reserve officers considering future paid positions. But Gregory's biggest concern is the lack of training for reserve officers who haven't attended a full academy like the one in Marion County.

"There needs to be some standardization of training," Grego­ry says. "Here in Indiana, they are trying to develop reserve academies statewide, but it couldn't come soon enough."

Too Much of a Good Thing

On the other end of the spectrum, stringent training requirements may hurt reserve programs in the long run. For example, changes in California enacted by the POST Com­mission could be disastrous for reservists. Known as Module D, this 1997 legislation will allow two things to occur. First, it enables Level I reserve officers to complete the necessary academy hours to obtain their full basic POST certificate. This will, in turn, give reserve officers the opportunity to move laterally to any full-time paid position within any department that accepts POST certification. Second, it will establish minimum training hours for new reserve academies according to the basic POST requirements for full-time offi­cers. At present, according to a (CRPOA) newsletter, POST has increased the minimum training to 664 hours per year.

In other words, the average reserve recruit will have to spend more than three-quarters of a year, four to five nights a week and weekends doing a job he is not getting paid for. This does not take into account the stresses of a second full-time job, family, outside activities, etc. As a reserve officer, I can attest; the 500­hour academy I attended essentially took every free moment I had for seven straight months. While I am glad I did it, I must also mention that I have a very flexible schedule and have no children. But many reserve officers don't have that kind of time or flexibility.

"People become reserves for many reasons," says Adams. "But if you are talking about professional Level I reserves, it's going to be hard to find people willing to spend that much time in an academy. By professional reserves, I mean those officers who have full-time jobs and have no intention of ever working full time for a department."

Dr. Lawrence Heiskell is a perfect example of a professional reserve officer. Heiskell, an emergency room physician, has served the Palm Springs (Calif.) Police Department for three years. In that time, he has served a unique role as the depart­ment's SWAT team physician. In addition to his current emergency room duties, Heiskell also teaches a tactical emer­gency medicine course for H&K. develops emergency medical programs for police departments coun­trywide and writes for various law enforcement journals. For him, being a reserve officer is easy.

"Growing up, I always wanted to be an FBI agent, but my parents wouldn't hear of it," says Heiskell. "My dad taught science, so I got into biology and medicine. I was doing my residency in Bakersfield (Calif.) in 1989 when I was approached by the Kern County Sher­iff's Department to be their SWAT team medic. When I moved to Palm Springs, I transferred to their department."

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