There is a segment of our law enforcement community that gets very little attention from anyone, both inside and outside of the agency. Most of the time when they are interacting with the public, our citizens have no idea they are speaking with an unpaid reserve officer. They face the same challenges and dangers as the full-time officers, but oftentimes they receive little more than personal satisfaction in return.
I began my career in law enforcement as a reserve officer. Granted my reserve officer experience was fairly short-lived, since the agency brought me on as a full-time officer after about six months, but in that short period of time I learned a lot. I learned that I had a knack for this line of work, and I learned that it seemed to be enjoyable enough to do all of the time.
It depends on what area of the country you find yourself, but in my area reserve officers are pretty common. We have them in most places that “donut” our metropolitan area, and the major city that we surround has them too. Each agency has its own policies that regulate the activities of their reserve officers, and mine is no exception.
At the Donut County PD, our reserve officers are expected to perform almost all of the tasks our full-time officers do. The only exceptions center around the investigation of crimes that are of the highest priority which our reserve officers can respond to, but cannot report on these crimes alone. Our reserve officers complete an in-depth training academy and field training program before they hit the streets alone. Only a trained eye could differentiate a reserve officer from a full time officer in uniform at my agency.
Our reserve officers supplement our short manpower when needed and are typically tasked with volunteering their time to do tasks that the full-time officers would rather not do, such as community events and pre-planned traffic direction details. They come from many different walks of life, and decide to come aboard for a variety of reasons.
A majority of our reserve officers begin their careers much like I did 13 years ago. They use their time to gain training and experience to help them find a full-time police job, either at this agency or another. It’s an opportunity to see if law enforcement is a fit for them, kind of a test drive. These officers are a pleasure, they’re typically young and eager to work and train hard in order to hone their skills. The vast majority of these officers do end up in a full-time spot somewhere, and some do so very quickly. Sometimes we are lucky enough to hire them and other times they escape us.
There are reserve officers with a high-paying full-time career who have no intention of ever leaving their current jobs. They may be from the corporate world or they may be successful small business owners, but law enforcement is still something they enjoy. It’s a way for some to give back to the community, and for others it is more of a selfish yet selfless way to push their own limits.
Some have already spent a career as a full-time officer and decided to come back because they missed the life. Most of them missed the camraderie more than the bullshit. I think some of the retirees turned reserve officers just don’t have enough of a wardrobe to wear something that isn’t a uniform.
On occasion some slip through the selection process and quickly prove to be in well over their heads during the field training experience. Most of the time those problem children get weeded out much quicker than a struggling full-time officer in field training since the agency hasn’t spent as much time or money on them.
The best of the reserve officers understand that they aren’t exposed to as much as the full-time officers, so they manage to find helpful roles while on scene at calls. Just like their full time brothers and sisters, there are plenty of times that they will kick the proverbial hornet’s nest while conducting some form of proactive policing. When that happens, the good ones quickly ask for any assistance they may need and won’t hesitate to get clarification when faced with something they haven’t dealt with before. As a patrol supervisor, I have no issue with answering questions or helping out, especially in the case of a hard-charging reserve officer.
It’s not uncommon for a full-time officer to feel underappreciated and underpaid, so I can only imagine the place the reserve officer can find himself at times. Often used as a stopgap for shift coverage or for shit details and seldom thanked by anyone in the command staff, the reserve officer is the definition of underappreciated and unpaid.
In these tumultuous times it’s even easier to internalize the issues of the world as we don our uniforms and hit the streets. In the end, it’s still paying the bills for the full-time officer. The reserve officer who still suits up and comes out to help deserves a lot more from all of us. A quick pat on the back or a text message saying “thanks for helping out” can go a long way.
It’s time to go patrol the Donut…