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Reserve officers: a valuable resource.

A reserve officer, along with a full-time police officer, responded to a call regarding a baby who had stopped breathing. Trained in CPR, the reserve officer revived the infant, and both responders received medals of honor for heroism. The elated parents further recognized the hero who saved their son's life--they named their baby after him.

Hearing over his home police scanner a request for officer assistance regarding a traffic incident near his home, a reserve deputy sheriff quickly entered his vehicle and sped to the location despite icy road conditions. Upon arrival, he found a car upside down in water and determined that two occupants remained trapped inside. Immediately, without regard for his own safety, he entered the freezing water. Unfortunately, the conditions prevented him from rescuing the victims, but this brave individual received recognition from his state for this unselfish sacrifice of placing his life in jeopardy to help fellow citizens.


Every day, in situations like these, reserve officers show their courage and dedication. They offer police departments many benefits. Agencies across the country are discovering the advantages of having these officers within their ranks.



Since the hue and cry of the parish constable, (1) law enforcement agencies have employed civilian volunteers to assist them. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, created a need for more officers to protect America's streets. In many instances, with insufficient funding for additional positions, police departments have sought alternatives, one being the employment of reserve officers. An estimated 400,000 or more currently serve in the United States. (2)

A reserve officer is "a volunteer, nonregular, sworn member of a law enforcement agency who serves with or without compensation and has regular police powers ... and who participates on a regular basis in agency activities, including ... crime prevention or control, and the preservation of the peace and enforcement of the law." (3) Reserve officers differ from full-time officers because they are not in a career-development role. (4) Generally, they have full-time jobs in other fields of employment.


Reserve officers serve in a variety of ways. As one example, they promote community safety and awareness. For instance, individuals in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, Police Reserve do this by educating about bicycle safety and producing fingerprint identification cards for children. (5)

Patrol duties on motorcycles and bicycles, in cars, and on foot represent other areas of service. Examples of these activities include serving official documents, pursuing fleeing suspects, executing searches, processing and transferring detainees, and identifying and gathering evidence. In rural areas, such as Carter County, Oklahoma, and Yankton, South Dakota, reserve officers have responsibility for many miles of roads that may not have 24-hour coverage by full-time officers. (6) They also patrol large parks to help alleviate shortages of law enforcement presence. (7)

Many reserve officers handle administrative functions. These include maintaining records of daily activities, interviewing parties to a crime, and preparing and preserving official documentation about the investigation of criminal activities. Reserve officers who can perform such functions as background checks relieve some of the stress on the full-time clerical and administrative staff.

In urban areas, departments use reserve officers to assist with traffic and crowd control during public events, such as concerts and parades. In the city of Minneapolis, reserve officers who have received specialized traffic training assist in special events and emergency circumstances. (8)

Reserve officers also serve in specialized capacities. For instance, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary employs approximately 35,000 members who have many responsibilities, including helping the Coast Guard patrol U.S. waterways. (9) Reserve officers also perform search-and-rescue functions. For example, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, special officers participate in operations, such as mountain climbing missions, mine and cave evacuations, medical snowmobile responses, and horse and dog rescues. (10)

Pay and Benefits

Generally, reserve officers serve as volunteers committed to the safety of the community and receive no pay or benefits and little, if any, recognition for their time and efforts. Often, their compensation comes in the form of personal growth and satisfaction or, perhaps, experience to help in the pursuit of a full-time law enforcement position.

Some departments do pay reserve officers. These agencies also recognize such personnel as auxiliary officers and, generally, employ them part time. No set federal mandates exist for compensation or benefits for reserve officers, and, of course, policies vary among departments. Some pay an hourly wage, while the state of Iowa, for example, compensates reserve officers at a rate of $1 per year and provides medical insurance. (11)


Reserve officers benefit the department, its full-time officers, and the community. They allow agencies to add personnel without experiencing budgetary burdens. This increased law enforcement visibility helps deter crime without additional stress on full-time personnel. And, not only do residents feel safer but officers have more contact with citizens. As a result, the relationship between the police and the community improves.

Also, reserve officers help ensure the safety of the agency personnel they work with. For instance, a full-time officer could benefit from a reserve officer as a second responder while addressing a domestic violence incident. This additional officer would provide needed assistance in controlling the situation, and both responders would help protect each other.



Agencies recruit prospective reserve officers through various methods, including employment fairs, print and broadcast media, flyers, word of mouth, and school presentations. Many departments also turn to the Internet as an affordable way to advertise that creates a large pool of potential candidates. This may involve a simple announcement on an agency's Web site.

Departments vary on the criteria that interested candidates must meet. Most agencies require reserve officers to be at least 18 years of age, but some set the minimum age at 19 or 21. Candidates must have U.S. citizenship, and some departments require them to meet city or county citizenship requirements.

Further, some agencies require physical-agility testing of candidates; this also varies by department. The Newark, California, Police Department mandates a test typical of agencies that includes a 99-yard obstacle course, a body drag, a fence climb, and a 500-yard run. (12) Additionally, some departments require candidates to undergo a physical examination to include vision and hearing tests and weight measurements.

Reserve officer candidates also must submit to a background check, which may include an interview, possibly with the department chief or city council; fingerprinting; drug testing; criminal, credit, driving-record, and work-history checks; and a polygraph examination. Candidates cannot have a felony conviction, and some misdemeanors (e.g., domestic violence) may disqualify them. (13)


Agencies that employ reserve officers follow department or state training guidelines. They strive to ensure thorough training; if not, these individuals could present liability issues for the department and its other officers. Generally, this process occurs on the job with a field training officer. Other programs exist for reserve officers to attend pertaining to such subjects as first aid/CPR, domestic violence response, firearms, public safety, driving techniques, interviewing practices, and criminal law.

Some departments mandate additional requirements. For instance, the North Port Police Department in Florida requires aspiring reserve officers to obtain certification through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission. (14) Individuals interested in the Millbrae, California, Police Department must meet the guidelines established by the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) before applying to serve as a reserve officer. (15) The Wingate, North Carolina, Police Department recruits former officers who are Basic Law Enforcement Trained (BLET) and radar certified. (16)

The Tazewell, Virginia, Police Department further expands on its training requirements; the reserve officer must have obtained or be in pursuit of a degree in criminal justice. Therefore, the individual will possess important information on constitutional laws, diversity, law enforcement regulations, and community-police relations. (17)

Additionally, reserve officers requesting a position in a specialized unit may have to pass a test in that specialty. Such requirements may be necessary in specific areas, such as crime mapping and cold case investigation.


Reserve officer programs can offer many benefits to the department and the community. Well-screened, thoroughly trained reserve officers can provide much needed assistance to agencies without hurting their budgets. The assistance of these individuals can help ensure the safety and well-being of full-time officers and the community as a whole.


(1) For additional information, see


(3) html

(4) The term full-time is used in the article to differentiate between regular and reserve officers.


(6) Richard Weinblatt, "Reserves Aid Rural Counties," Law and Order, January 2001, 30-31.

(7) Jim Mallory, "Volunteer Bike Patrol Boosts Park Coverage," Law and Order, April 2001, 80-84.

(8) Supra note 5.


(10) Richard Weinblatt, "Discovering a Valuable Asset: Reserve Search and Rescue Units," Law and Order, May 1999. 18-19.

(11) Staci Hupp, "Hiring Plan Divided Iowa Police," Des Moines Register, December 21, 2003.

(12) 5af8el9.pdf

(13) Captain Brian Hieatt, Tazewell, Virginia, Police Department, interview by the authors, July 20, 2005.

(14) Lia Martin, "Men in Black Aided by Volunteers," Sun Herald, April 1, 2004.


(16) Richard Weinblatt, "Holding onto a Knowledgeable Resource," Law and Order, June 1999, 127-130.



Ms. Hedlund is a graduate of the criminal justice program at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.


Dr. Burke, a former police officer, is a professor of criminal justice at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.

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Author:Burke, Tod W.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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