Police departments across the United States rely on reserve--also called auxiliary--police officers to assist full-time law enforcement in meeting community needs. By volunteering their service, reserve officers relieve budget burdens and serve as liaisons between the community and law enforcement. Because reserve officers often tackle the same challenges as police officers--and face the same liabilities--they receive rigorous pre-service and in-service training.
According to a 2006 “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin,” reserve officers serve without pay and often do not see policing as their career. However, they still shoulder many regular police responsibilities. They patrol neighborhoods “on motorcycles and bicycles, in cars, and on foot” and even pursue suspects, execute searches and gather evidence. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, Level III Los Angeles reserve officers even carry firearms. The Minneapolis Reserve Officer website explains that Minneapolis auxiliary officers respond to riots, shootings and disasters, as well as assist with “traffic and crowd control."
Many citizens mistakenly compare reserve officers to the military reserves, believing that “reservists participate in training exercises while waiting to be called-up” and rarely participate in police activities, according to the Minneapolis Police Reserve website. However, reserve officers contribute significant time, with many agencies mandating minimum hours per month, according to a 2008 “Law and Order” article.
You may need to pass rigorous physical assessments, submit to a background check and complete a comprehensive medical exam in order to volunteer as a reserve officer, according to the “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.” Prepare to take a polygraph test and complete an interview with the department chief or even the city council, advises the Bulletin.
Reserve officer training requirements vary by state and department. Most require rigorous training, with some, such as the Tazewell, Va. Police Department, even mandating that all reserve officers have or pursue a criminal justice degree. Illustrating the wide scope of potential requirements, the Minneapolis Police Reserve website stipulates pre-service training for safety and defensive tactics, chemical agents and weapons of mass destruction, as well as powers of arrest and legal issues. The Los Angeles Police Department requires auxiliary officers to complete a certified police academy course, according to the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
Law enforcement carries considerable liability, and since reserve officers serve fewer hours than full-time police, they miss a "significant amount of on-the-job training,” according to a 2008 issue of “Law and Order." While training courses help, reserve officers need the same regular in-service training as regular law enforcement, such as ride-alongs in police cruisers. Reserve officers also need to learn to respond to new threats, and organizations such as the National Reserve Law Officers Association offer courses such as WMD/Terrorism First Responder Training. In some departments, reserve officers also train to advance through levels, such as the Stockton, Calif. Police Department, which offers Level I and II reserve positions, according to its site.
- “FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin”; Reserve Officers: A Valuable Resource; Karey Hedlund and Tod W. Burke; December 2006
- Los Angeles Police Department: Reserve Police Officer Program
- “Law and Order”; Auxiliary Police Officers: Just Add Training; John Ferguson; April 2008
- Police image by Zeno from Fotolia.com