On Nov. 15, the government of San Francisco transformed the city into Gotham City to fulfill the dreams of a little boy who wanted to help Batman fight crime. Miles Scott, 5, of Tulelake, Calif., has been a leukemia patient since he was in diapers. So the Northern California chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation set him up with an elaborate day of play acting as a costumed superhero.
The boy was outfitted in a Batman suit, given the title of “Batkid,” and sent off to fight the Riddler and the Penguin at the side of a man dressed as Batman. Together they rode around San Francisco in a black Lamborghini that was decked out as the Batmobile.
Batman and Batkid were escorted by SFPD officers and sent on their missions by Police Chief Greg Suhr. But there was more to this story than most people know. The officers who escorted Batkid and helped him live his dream were not authorized OT and were doing it on their own time.
That’s just one example of how officers take their motto of to serve and protect (or protect and serve, depending on agency preference) as a life’s calling, not just a job or even a career.
My first social contact with police officers was back in the 1980s when I was working on an RV magazine and was covering the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. We covered it because RV owners were providing escort vehicles for the runners. At the time, I didn’t realize how much those officers were giving of themselves to help promote a worthy organization. Now, I know they were sacrificing their down time and even time with their loved ones, all to help other people.
Both retired and active officers offer their free time every day for so many worthy causes. Some build houses for the poor, some aid disaster victims, and some serve as grief support for officers and loved ones of officers suffering loss. That’s just some of the good work being done by officers in this season of giving.
But I want to cast a special spotlight on two categories of police volunteers.
Nationwide, retired police officers are supplementing the work of active officers, and they are doing so without any compensation. The labor of these retired officers is saving cash-strapped agencies thousands of dollars annually.
Retired officers are out on patrol, directing traffic, working cold cases, investigating gangs, and helping train the next generation of officers. Some are even trying to rescue teenage runaways and prostitutes.
Another class of police volunteers that I wanted to spotlight is reserve officers. These men and women don’t get nearly enough respect.
Reserves are usually civilians who have taken the extraordinary step of attending a law enforcement academy and becoming certified as police officers. Once certified they offer their services to agencies.
There’s two reasons why reserves are willing to volunteer to do the “scut” work, the stuff you don’t want to do, at your agency. They either want to hire on with your agency, or they love the job so much that—despite the demands of their other careers—they are glad to help you out for free.
And it’s important to remember that volunteer reserve officers sometimes face the same dangers that you do.
On the afternoon of Sunday Nov. 3, Reserve Officer Robert Libke, 41, of the Oregon City (Ore.) Police Department responded to a call of a house on fire. The house was engulfed with flames by the time Libke and other emergency personnel arrived, and they were told by an informant that the occupant had a revolver in hand and had told a neighbor who had tried to help him that he set the fire.
Moments later Libke was in the backyard of the burning house when he was confronted by the armed subject. Libke ordered the 88-year-old man to drop the gun. But the man chose to open fire instead. Libke was struck in the head. He died the next day in a hospital. The subject committed suicide later that day when facing Clackamas County SWAT.
Libke’s murder is both a tragedy and a terrible crime. His wife was pregnant with their first child at the time of the shooting.
I don’t know for sure what drove Libke to volunteer as a reserve officer. But I bet it was a desire to serve his community. That same desire drives active officers who work without overtime compensation to help a sick kid, retirees who volunteer at a wide variety of police agencies, and reserve officers who work side by side with you.