Where Have All the Reserves Gone?

While it could be debated as to when and who implemented the first reserve police officer program in the United States, it can be safely said that the first units began shortly after the start of World War II. During this period of time, enlistment in the armed forces and the draft strained the ranks of many police and sheriff's agencies and as such, thousands of citizens volunteered their services as auxiliary police and civil defense volunteers to take up the void left by the war. We know that large agencies such as the Los Angeles Police Department enacted, via their City Council, an ordinance in 1947 that established a formal Police Reserve Corps. A large number of the citizens who stepped up to help during the war stayed on with the new reserve organization to continue their role in assisting the police department in a more formal way.

The responsibilities of many of the new reserve officer organizations were broadened to include not only the civil defense aspects, but general police and law enforcement duties as well. As time went on, standards in selection of personnel and training were upgraded to meet and to be in compliance with the various states' Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) requirements.

It doesn't seem like that long ago states like California had a large and strong contingent of sworn reserve officers spread across the state's agencies. Police and sheriff's agencies enjoyed the extra manpower which provided, as the name implies, a reserve force of well trained, dedicated men and women to serve side by side with their full time sworn counterparts.

About ten years ago, in 1996, the State of California's POST commission decided to change the training requirements for those wishing to become Level One reserve officers. What used to be a training regimen equal to about half of the 700 plus hours required of a full time officer was now equally required for those wishing to be a Level One reserve officer, the equivalent patrol level of a full time sworn officer.

With the new requirements in place, the "state of reserves" within the State of California has continued to decline and in some cases, agencies have completely disbanded their reserve officer programs. The reason is quite simple: finding willing, able and qualified individuals who work full time jobs and can also squeeze in 700 plus hours of free time to become a career volunteer is very difficult. While not all states require this level of training for their reserves, those that do are also facing a shortage of higher level reserve officers.

History repeats itself, or does it?

As first discussed, the original impetus for the use of reserve officers began during war time when police agencies' sworn staff were strained. Fast forward about sixty years from World War II, and one could argue that we are in effect involved in a world war, but this time against an enemy who is not centralized in one particular nation but spread out across the world. Terrorists, along with the states and nations who sponsor them, can be found to our east, west, and south. One chilling reality of this new "war" is the drain on our nation's police agencies as they are being asked to perform more and more "Homeland Security" functions, usually without the funding to back it. Worse yet, the increased responsibilities are taking away officers from traditional crime fighting tasks and as such, violent crime is again on the rise after a ten year decline. Last year, murders were up 4.8% in our nation. This may not sound like much until you consider that 4.8% represents approximately 750 more Americans murdered last year, in addition to the already 15,495 murdered in 2005. Anyone who has worked a murder scene or a homicide unit knows how devastating each murder is to the community and the ripple effect it has on the "secondary victims." Further, overall violent crime increased 2.5% in 2006. That increase in overall violent crime represents an additional 32,200 Americans who fell victim to a violent crime, the second worse type of crime there is, above and beyond the 1,287,981 from 2005.

Bottom line is, when you consider the increase in crime, coupled with the additional Homeland Security duties with little or no cost reimbursement, magnified by some agency staff members serving in the active duty military reserves being activated for up to a year at a time for the war in Iraq, local law enforcement agencies could be facing some very difficult times in the near future.

The good news is, for agencies willing to be creative and/or work with their state POST commissions, as seen during and after World War II, our nation is filled with dedicated citizens who may be utilized to assist with specific tasks that can free up our full time officers.

Functional Training versus All-Purpose Training

For agencies who hold their reserve officers to the same training standards as full time sworn officers, and thus are finding it difficult to recruit new reserves, you may want to consider developing another set of reserve levels. These new "specialized" reserve officers would only perform specific tasks that can greatly free up your full time officers to focus on what they do best, responding to calls for service and catching the criminals.

As an example, below are several new levels of reserve officer functions to consider which represent tasks commonly performed by full time officers, yet may not provide the best return on investment when it comes to serving your community. In the below examples, reserve officers would not be required to complete all the standard training requirements, as their tasks would be limited to set functions. Rather than creating new training modules, it would make sense to use those already in place and choose the topics which apply to your "specialized" reserve levels, similar to ordering a la carte off a menu versus the full dinner. In doing so, your "specialized" reserves will receive the training needed to perform their specific tasks without compromising their training requirements. Upon reviewing several states new officer recruit training requirements, using this format could reduce the needed training time by 25% to 50%. If at a later date your reserves desire to become full functioning reserves, they could take the remaining classes they missed to complete their state and/or agency requirements.

CR--Custody Reserve

The purpose of the Custody Reserve is to assist officers with the care, custody and transport of individuals recently arrested by an officer who are being detained at the local police facility pending transport to the county or main jail facility. For agencies who have their officers transport arrestees, and depending on how far away your main jail facility is, this one function alone could increase your officers' time on the street by 20% or more.

Training: Custody Reserves will receive the basic level of training required to become an entry level sworn peace officer within your state to include first aid and CPR. Additional training will be provided to insure the Custody Reserve is proficient in the use of non-lethal weapons to protect themselves, such as a baton, pepper spray, and possibly a TASER. Additionally CRs should be proficient in the use of non-lethal compliance techniques, cuffing and searching.

ER--Event Reserve

The function of the Event Reserve is to provide additional staffing for special events such as high school, college or professional sports competitions, graduation ceremonies, community fairs, concerts and other events where large masses of people will be attending for a limited amount of time.

Training: In addition to the training provided to a Custody Reserve, Event Reserves will also receive firearms instruction/certification and traffic control instruction.

TR--Transit Reserve

For communities who use mass transit systems, such as trains, buses, and subways, TRs will be utilized to supplement the full time force by specifically patrolling these various methods of transportation, including the passenger stations.

Training: TRs will receive the same level of training as an Event Reserve, in addition to specialized training in the area of Homeland Security awareness for bomb recognition, chemical agents, and other forms of lethal weapons that may be employed by terrorists in a mass transit system.

TER--Traffic Enforcement Reserve

For agencies who employ full time traffic enforcement officers or wish to, TERs would be limited to this function of enforcement and would not respond or be dispatched to general calls for service. TERs may also receive specialized training in accident investigations, which can be a tremendous time drain on full time officers.

Training: Due to the high risk involved while conducting traffic stops, this specialized level of reserves would most likely receive the highest level of training, closest to that of regular reserves, and should receive a significant amount of FTO time with a full time officer to insure they can safely conduct traffic stops.

The above examples are just some of the common duties officers perform which take away from their primary function of responding to calls for service and catching the bad guys. By thinking unconventionally and working with your reserve standards committees, the potential to keep more officers on the street to help combat the nation's rise in crime and offsetting any Homeland Security duties is tremendous. In the end, not only will your full time officers enjoy spending more time on the street doing what they do best, your specialized reserve officers will also benefit from becoming more proficient at the task they've chosen to do.