Reserve Officers May Still Have A Place In Your Department, But They Must Be Properly Managed

The idea of reserve officers may seem foreign to many readers, but the practice dates back to the early days of law enforcement. While many departments have long since abandoned the notion of using such officers, they remain an integral part of many agencies, and provide a much needed service, but only if managed properly.

Reserve, or Auxiliary, police officers are utilized by far more departments than you might think and, unless you work for such an agency, the very idea may seem antiquated. Like many aspects of law enforcement, the use of reserve officers is rooted in early practices of deputizing additional personnel during times of emergency or when short staffed departments require additional personnel. Over time, these officers morphed into permanent part-time employees, although many work enough hours to be considered full-time. Departments who still utilize this program find that having a core group of dedicated, trained reserve officers can greatly increase manpower while at the same time saving the department a great deal of money. Seems like a win-win until something goes wrong.

But something did go wrong earlier this year when Tulsa Oklahoma Reserve Officer Robert Charles Bates, 73, shot and killed a suspect during a foot chase. At the time, Bates was assigned to the Violent Crimes Task Force and, while involved in an undercover operation to recover stolen firearms, mistakenly drew his firearm rather than his taser, ultimately shooting and killing a suspect. In the weeks that followed, Bates was cleared by the Sheriff’s Department investigation, charged with 2nd Degree Manslaughter by the District Attorney and subject to allegations he had “bought” his position through political favors and large donations to the department. While Bates awaits trial, the Undersheriff was forced to resign due in part to these allegations as well as others claiming Bates’ training records had been falsified.

Tulsa Oklahoma Reserve Officer Robert Charles Bates' booking photo
Tulsa Oklahoma Reserve Officer Robert Charles Bates’ booking photo

No matter how you shake it, one man is dead, another faces imprisonment and others have seen their careers ruined. Could it have been avoided? Only time, and the pending trial, will tell. What I can tell you is that if your department chooses to utilize a similar program, you must be prepared to defend not only its existence but the qualifications of each member. If you cannot, then you are likely to find it is your career on the line when something happens in your jurisdiction.

The first step in avoiding questionable appointments to a reserve force is to follow any state guidelines or requirements concerning selection, training and retention. However, this is just the start. The following tips, if not already part of your program, may prevent you, your staff or your department from being subject to a wrongful death suit down the road.

1. Have a written policy and standard – every department should have documented standards concerning the selection, training and retention of reserve officers. More importantly, EVERY candidate must be subject to these standards regardless of their position in the community, relationship with command staff or political affiliation.

2. Require regular training and evaluation- if your state has minimum standards for reserve officers then great, but that is just the beginning. Just as full time officers receive regular updates, qualifications and evaluation, so should the reserve members.

3. Maintain thorough and up to date records- it goes without saying that nothing matters unless it is documented. Training records will be front and center following any use of force allegation and the fact that the officer is a reservist should not be used as an excuse to let these records go unmaintained.

4. Limit special assignments- no one likes to be told “no” and it is difficult to maintain unit cohesion if some members are treated differently than others. Plus, many reserve officers are professional, capable officers. However, it is also true that some assignments require additional training and experience which is often difficult for even full time officers to obtain. With this in mind, you may want to consider limiting reserve officers to specific, documented duties outside of special units.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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