Where Have All the Reserves Gone?

By thinking outside the box 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 offset Homeland Security duties is tremendous.


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.

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