SPRINGFIELD — Missouri's third-largest city could have volunteer police officers back in service by the end of the year.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams has made it a priority to revive the reserve officer program, which was suspended in 1994 and discontinued entirely in 2002.
Williams, who began his second year on the job last week, told the Springfield News-Leader he's not aiming to save money and that no full-time officers would lose their jobs to reserves. But with his department having difficulty filling all positions, he sees a role for volunteers in helping serve and protect the city.
The chief said reserve officers will wear black uniforms and carry guns but will be under several restrictions, at least at first. For example, he said, the reserves would always work under the supervision of a full-time officer.
"At no point will there be a reserve guy in a car by himself," Williams said.
And the initial reserve corps would be limited to those with Class A certification, meaning they have completed 600 hours of law enforcement training, Williams said. He believes several retired law enforcement officers in the area will be ready to fill the reserve ranks.
"I think there's a pool of folks out there that we can tap into," he said.
Williams hopes the restrictions would limit the department's exposure to legal liability, a concern of his predecessor when the idea of reviving the reserve force was raised in the past.
In surrounding Greene County, the Sheriff's Office has a roster of 40 unpaid volunteers and gives reserve deputies all the authority of full-time officers, Capt. Jim Farrell said.
"They work independently," Farrell said. "That's the whole goal of the reserves."
Farrell said each reserve deputy works at least 16 hours per month in the jail, on patrol or in the investigation division. They receive the same training as regular officers, differing only in that they're not paid.
"There are times I'm not sure how we could make it without our reserves," he said.