A few months ago, Ben Singleton and I wrote a piece that focused on the role of reserve officers. We had observed that two incidents in which a police officer killed an unarmed civilian in 2015 were incidents in which a reserve police officer was serving in a specialized unit or on a task force.
While reservists are often more heavily used by smaller departments, it is worth mentioning that agencies as large as the nation’s third largest — the Los Angeles Police Department — make regular use of reserve officers.
Where our last article was about the drawbacks of using reservists in special assignments (summary: it has to do with the number of hours spent on the street), in this article, I will focus on why reserve police officers are a fantastic deal for cities small or large.
It comes down to productivity.
“My annual cash value to my city before taking in to account the cash value of any citations I wrote, was $28,214.57.”
In many states, a reservist is a volunteer (unpaid) officer serving the community. In the northeast, most reserve, or “auxiliary” positions are unarmed (something like the English “Special”), but in much of the country, reserve officers are subject to the same training requirements as the part-time or full-time paid police officers with whom they work side-by-side — and with whom they are equally empowered to arrest. These reservists are armed and often perform patrol and even investigative functions.
In Texas, reservists and full time officers must attend the same police academy, for the same number of hours, and when they graduate and are commissioned by an agency, they possess the same powers of arrest and firearm carry. The badge says, “Police Officer,” not “Reserve Police Officer,” because the authority is unrelated to how one is paid. As a licensed peace officer, there is no difference between a reserve, part-time paid or full-time paid officer.
How Reservists Can Work — A Case Study…Me.
From December of 2010 until June of 2014, as a reservist, I responded to or self-initiated some 658 logged police calls for the small City of Dalworthington Gardens, TX. That is an average of 16 calls a month. These calls included 347 traffic stops, or an average of just over eight per month. In most similarly-sized cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the average full-time, paid police officer conducts an average of 17 traffic stops per month (this number does not include motorcycle cops, whose main function is to pull over vehicles — they pull over many more). So, during my tenure as a volunteer, my stops were equal to 47% of those of a full-time, paid officer.
Traffic & Patrol
Consider the value of traffic stops to a city. Most people look at traffic stops as a way for cities to raise money. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, agencies can expect to have their officers write citations with a face value of $45,671.11 per year, and generally, about one-third (or, about $15,071) will be paid without going to warrant. Of those paid citations, half those funds go to the state (give or take), so the city’s general fund can expect about $7,532 per year, per officer, from the citations the officer writes. Note, the money goes to the city, not the police department. Despite what many people think, traffic policing is not for the money.
There are very important non-monetary reasons why cities like traffic officers. The regular police presence is a deterrent to crime — criminals do not stay around long in areas that police patrol regularly. The interdiction of drunk drivers, drug traffickers and car thieves is almost entirely accomplished by methodical and heavy traffic enforcement.
And I was there, patrolling the streets to the tune of half a full-time officer every month.
The median annual police patrol officer salary in Fort Worth, TX is $52,201, with a range usually between $43,480 and $61,606. This makes the median all-in cost to the city something like $60,031.
Since I was performing at 47% (8 stops a month for me, versus the average of 17 stops a month for a full-time officer), my cash value to my city before taking in to account the cash value of any citations I wrote, was $28,214.57. Oh, plus my $7,535 in citation revenues, so let’s say I am worth $35,750 a year.
That is nothing to sneeze at, especially since the agency generally doesn’t have to buy me more than a few uniforms. Their all-in costs, really, are pretty low. A gun (around $400), ammunition to qualify every year ($20), and basically that’s it. Reservists typically pick up the cost of their handcuffs and some other essential gear, like flashlights and energy drinks.
Oh, and no one has to listen to a reservist bitch about comp time, or trade vacation days, or how Mike is such a turd, or how if they don’t fix the computer stand in unit 56 I’m gonna complain to the mayor — reservists are generally hassle free and low-maintenance.
Let’s take a few other things into account: on those 347 traffic stops, I arrested at least 26 drivers for offenses like no driver license, or driving while their license was suspended, or outstanding warrants. I participated in high-speed car chases (which were cool as hell). I worked major and minor traffic accidents, both fender-benders and those with injuries.
Let’s look outside traffic. In the 43 months from December of 2010 until June of 2014, I responded to armed- and strong-arm robberies that had occurred and in-progress. I served as primary back-up officer for our agency, and for officers in the agency in the next city, for 15 incidents that turned physical — but never had a single complaint lodged against me. I assisted motorists, directed traffic, checked burglar alarms and open door-calls in the middle of the night; I filled in for a week at the school crosswalk, making sure the students got safely across the huge main drag.
I responded and assisted at domestic disturbances, fights in progress, vehicle fires, structure fires and a grass-fire. I ran medical calls, and while I am not an Emergency Medical Technician I was trained and certified in, and applied CPR to dying people on two occasions. I convinced a mentally ill man to seek treatment in the midst of a crisis, and then drove him to the hospital, and helped him check in.
I conducted 24 criminal investigations, including credit card theft, cyber crime, and fraud. I wrote and served evidentiary search warrants, released and transported prisoners.
Remember how I said it was a really bad idea to use reservists like me to serve warrants? The reason so many agencies allow reservists to serve warrants is related: agencies are resource constrained, and people still expect their police to make arrests.
That’s why, from June of 2011 until June of 2014, as a reserve officer and mainly working alone, I served or attempted to serve 107 arrest warrants. Three a month. These were mainly misdemeanor warrants. In addition, I served with other officers or assisting officers from my agency who were part of a task force, several dozen felony arrest warrants. All without incident.
And the case of which I am most proud, I helped in the arrest and prosecution of a dirty police officer who was abusing his authority. I testified against him at his trial, and during cross examination, his defense attorney asked me a bunch of questions. Why do you reserve?
“You make a lot more money as an information security consultant,” she said, as if I had been caught in a lie. “Is this something you do simply out of the goodness of your heart?” she asked, incredulous.
“Why, yes,” I said, “That’s exactly why. This is public service, and I am proud of it.”
Because I did all the above while running, full-time, a company that provides technology to law enforcement.
Some reservists don’t do much. I was at the productive end of the spectrum — I did a lot of training, worked a lot of cases and was able to participate in some amazing events.
The Bottom Line
How much is all this worth to my city? Well, I don’t know.
Oh, you mean in dollars? Hell, that’s easy: I reckon that, based on the numbers above, from December 2010 until June 2014 (when I took a job as a paid investigator at another police agency that I continue to serve today) I provided the City of Dalworthington Gardens, Texas value to the tune of $128,104.16.
That is why agencies use reservists.