Truck drivers do it. Brain surgeons do it. Brick layers, retired cops and attorneys do it.
They all have been reserve officers for the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. And if Mick Covington becomes the next Boone County Sheriff, he plans to recruit and train more ordinary citizens to police the county.
Covington, a Republican who faces Democrat Dwayne Carey in next week’s election, wants to start a training academy for reserve officers run by the sheriff’s department.
He also hopes to expand their duties. Currently, reserve officers largely assist sheriff’s deputies with special events, such as the Boone County Fair. Covington would assign them duties such as searching rural areas for signs of methamphetamine production, watching vacant properties, transporting prisoners, backing up full-time officers on patrol and helping city police departments with high school sporting events.
“They would not be utilized to supplant officer duties but augment their duties,” Covington said.
Covington’s Democratic opponent, Capt. Dwayne Carey, criticized the plan as “unrealistic.” The sheriff’s department does not have the money to train reserve officers for certification, said Carey, who also questions the interest in law enforcement training among county residents
“It’s tough for an individual outside of law enforcement to give up the time or money to go through the academy,” Carey said.
In the past, reserve officers could patrol and enforce the law throughout the county. Now, said Boone County sheriff’s Maj. O.J. Stone, they rarely do more than help with crowd control at special events or occasionally ride along with full-time deputies.
“It’s a concern that sometimes officers working on a part-time basis might not be as up to date on the community or as cognizant of the risks,” Stone said. “We have found historically that it works better in a support capacity rather than in a front-line capacity.
To become a fully commissioned reserve officer who has the power to make arrests requires 480 hours of training — up from only 120 hours in 1993. The cost of training has gone up, too. Academies, such as the MU Law Enforcement Training Institute, charge nearly $2,500 — a more than $2,000 increase from just a few years ago. Moreover, the sheriff’s department no longer helps pay the tab.
As a result, the sheriff’s department has steadily been losing reserve officers. The department has 16 fully commissioned reserve officers who wear the uniform and carry a gun, Mace, phone, pager and other standard law enforcement equipment. Reserve officers can make arrests, but they are not paid. They also only work part time.
Covington estimates that he could have a training academy up and running in Boone County within 18 months of taking office. He declined to be specific about the cost, other than to say it would be “minimal.”
Uniforms and equipment would be the largest expenditure, Covington said. Those costs would come out of a general revenue fund, he said. The Peace Officer Standards and Training Fund, which is funded from court fines, could cover the training costs, he said.
Rather than launch an academy and equip more citizens with the tools and power to police Boone County, Carey said he will appoint a full-time employee to increase recruitment of noncertified officers, who can only wear the uniform and make arrests under the direct supervision of a full-time deputy.
Carey said part-time officers may not have the skills necessary to safely enforce the law because they are not in the field as often as the full time deputies.
He also said the department no longer needs to rely on reserve officers as patrol deputies since Proposition L, a one-eighth-cent sales tax, allowed the department to hire more officers in 2003.
Covington said his plan would not place incompetent officers on the streets.
“We would not put people in situations we didn’t think they could handle,” Covington said. “We don’t do that with regular officers, and we would not do that with a reserve.”