Riding Shotgun

The recent surge in officer layoffs may give cause to revisit history.


As we entered into the current recession, all across the nation we heard of plans being developed by local and county agencies to lay off law enforcement officers as a last resort, if all else failed and no other means of budget reductions could be found. Sadly for some officers, the actual lay offs have begun in some agencies and no one knows for sure when it will end. To make matters worse, some labor agreements call for stopping the use of reserve officers if full time police officer are laid off, adding a potential double hit to the reduction in officers on the streets. As if all that wasn't bad enough, in the state of California for example, budget cuts have been mandated to the Department of Corrections and unless other ways can be found to reduce their budget, prisoners will be released back into the population creating what many have called a perfect storm: less police officers and more criminals on the street at the same time. Adding to all of the above, this is happening at a time when we hear more and more tragic stories of not just one officer being killed at a time but multiple officers by well armed suspects whose fire power initially out guns the street officers until additional officers and/or the SWAT team can arrive.

For agencies that have been forced to lay off officers, what may be even more troubling is the fact it could be many years before their budgets will allow them to fill these now vacant positions. Many city budgets are dependent on the tax revenue from property values which have declined by over 50% in some cases thus cutting the cities budget dramatically. As we all know, the process of hiring new officers, training them, FTO time, etc. can add another 18 to 24 months to the process, leaving some agencies looking at perhaps five years before they start to either rehire those laid off or place new officers on the streets. With the recent reductions in the number of officers on the streets and surge in violence against officers with no immediate end in sight anytime soon, law enforcement executives and state POST commissions may need to start considering new and innovative ways to help put more officers on the streets with less funds to do so.

Will riding shotgun make a comeback?

As stated in an article several years ago, the term riding shotgun came from the old cowboy days when stagecoaches crossed the wide open territories, loaded with valuable cargo, cash, and other attractive items for thieves. To help protect the load, a second person would ride up top with the driver openly carrying, as the name implies, a shotgun. The reason was quite simple and obvious: to help deter thieves from attempting to rob the stagecoach, and if they did, to provide additional back up for the driver. Thus the term used today when someone is told to sit in the passenger seat, you ride shotgun.

One proven method worth considering that is already in place and would only require a small amount of changes in state regulations is the use of Level II reserve officers. In this case, they would now be full time paid Level II peace officers, perhaps called Assistant Officers, or AOs.

In this scenario the level II officers primary mission would be in affect to ride shotgun and assist the fully trained lead officer with their duties while providing the all important back up. For those familiar with well regarded reserve programs such as California's, this position would basically be a full time officer trained to a level two reserve officers standards which in California requires 333 hours of class instruction versus 727 hours for a full time sworn police officer. As in the case of California's reserve officer program, a level II officer may perform general law enforcement assignments while under the immediate supervision of a peace officer who has completed the Regular Basic Course, (a fully commissioned police officer). These officers may also work assignments authorized for Level III reserve officers such as prisoner transport and support duties that most likely will not result in an arrest, without immediate supervision. The idea behind this is not to reduce the number of full time officers on the streets but to help keep the officers we have on the streets safer and be able to respond to calls as a two manned unit knowing both officers have been trained to the same level as it relates to officer safety, i.e., firearms and arrest tactics but not necessarily trained in traffic laws, accident scene investigations and other areas that a second officer would need to effectively back up the primary officer on scene.

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