“Some belong to the Rotary Club, some to Kiwanis, but my idea of community service is law enforcement,” said Chuck Wilson, a reserve sergeant for the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.
Wilson, 60, has worked as a reserve officer ever since former Sheriff Ted Boehm started the program about 20 years ago.
Like seven of the other reserve officers, Wilson is fully certified, meaning he has all the powers of paid officers, including the ability to arrest.
Wilson can also find himself in danger like paid officers, like the time he and his partner in the Columbia police reserves found a burglar hiding in the Heidelberg restaurant’s storage room.
“He had a butcher knife, and I had a 12-gauge shotgun,” Wilson said. “He thought the thing to do was put the knife down.”
Wilson, a Shelter Insurance agent, is one of 12 reserve officers — including race car drive Carl Edwards Jr.—
whose volunteer service saved the county about $12,500 last year. The reserves saved about $23,000 in
2003 and about $39,000 in 2002, said Boone
County Sgt. Gene Baumann, who handles administrative duties for the reserve. Baumann said that savings should increase after Sheriff Dwayne Carey meets his goal of recruiting eight more reserve officers.
The Boone County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia Police reserve divisions are two of several thousand reserve units in the U.S. that help law enforcement units operate despite tight budgets and the loss of officers to the Iraq war, said Brooke Webster, Reserve Police Officers Association president.
In the last two years, eight Columbia police officers and two Boone County Sheriff’s officers have left to fight in Iraq.
Wilson said he no longer patrols, but he still trains fellow officers in firearms skills, as he has done for the last 20 years.
“As long as I can help officers have a better chance of going home to their families, I will keep doing it,” said Wilson, who volunteers 10 to 40 hours a month.
Reserve officers can volunteer as many hours as they want, but they are required to assist with special events like festivals and parades, Boone County Sheriff’s Department Maj. Tom Reddin said. They’re not required to patrol but can if they check out a car of their own. Most ride along with full-time officers.
Some officers volunteer because they are considering a career in law enforcement, Reddin said. Others, like Columbia police reserve Officer Jason Goran, volunteer because they have always had an interest in law enforcement but choose another career path.
“I think it is something you are born with,” Goran said.
An MU support systems administrator, Goran attends the Missouri Sheriff’s Academy in Jefferson City where he studies everything from constitutional law to accident investigation. He won’t have arrest privileges or be able to carry a gun until he graduates in October from the 640-hour program.
“I look forward to helping the community more than I am now,” Goran said. “You want to catch the bad guy and do what is right.”
Until then, Goran plans to continue to provide security at public events like parades and high school football games. Goran has experienced some satisfaction on the job as he did at a Hickman High School football game last year when he helped locate an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease who had wandered off from the sidelines and gotten lost.
“That is not what you think of police work, but that was bringing a loved one back to his family,” Goran said.
Sometimes the mere presence of a reserve officer can help individuals, as the case when Baumann was called in during a family disturbance. The wife had asked for an officer to stand by as her husband packed up his belongings.
“There was no problem, but the appreciation she had for us being there was amazing,” Baumann said.
He said before the passing of Proposition L, which gave the department more money to hire additional officers, the county depended on the reserves for “full-service manpower.” That’s no longer the case, but reserve officers still assist their departments by freeing full-time officers to work on more pressing tasks, Reddin said.
However, not everyone agrees that there should be reserve officers, Webster said.
In St. Louis, police unions spearheaded the disbanding of the city’s reserve division. The unions’ resistance to reserves stems from full-time officers’ fearing for their jobs and the misconception that reserve officers aren’t fully trained.
Reddin and Columbia police Capt. Sam Hargadine said they weren’t aware of any similar feelings within their departments.
“We appreciate their contributions and personal sacrifice,” Reddin said.
He said that the reserve division is properly trained and supervised and that the four reserve officers who are not certified are always supervised by officers who are.
The same goes for members of the Explorers program, which allows youths to get a taste of law enforcement by assisting at special events, Reddin said.
The Explorers, ages 14 to 20, are the first group in a program for young people interested in pursing a career in law enforcement, said Sgt. Ron Skiles, the reserve division administrator.
Sheriff Carey said he received his first experience with law enforcement in a similar program.
“Kids come in when they are 16 and work for four years and then get hired by the department,” Carey said.
Reserve officers also have a good chance of getting hired full- time when they demonstrate they can handle the work, Hargadine said. “I bet you about 20 to 30 percent of our staff came from the reserve program,” he said.
For people like Baumann, 68, the reserve unit is an end in itself. He plans to put in a few more years before calling it quits. “I assured Dwayne I would be around as long as he needs me,” Baumann said.
For more information about the Reserve Police Officers Association, check out http://www.reservepolice.org/