A crack in the police wall.
We’ve all heard the names at one time or another: “rent-a-cop,” “wannabe,” “2.5,” as well as a host of other derogatory terms. There has long been a sense of friction between reserve and full-time officers in many departments. That animosity rises to the level of hate and is more pronounced in certain regions of the country. This “Reserve Power” column examines why such negativity abounds.
Some of the negativity is just downright mean-spirited and emanates unreasonably from a faction of officers in many departments. However, some of the problems could be curtailed if certain details are attended to in the reserve program. In my experience on all sides of the reserve fence (as a reserve, a full-time officer/reserve liaison, and as a police chief having formed a reserve officer program), it appears that the dislike comes from several different areas.
Law enforcers across the country, with their low tolerance for things that do not seem quite right, withdraw their informal support when reserves find their way to a badge and gun on a political basis. While political appointees are not bad in and of themselves (they can be a powerful advocate for the chief or sheriff with certain key constituencies), the swearing-in of those individuals that could not otherwise meet the entrance and training standards irks full-time officers.
Officers view themselves as an elite cadre of professionals and resent those who enter their domain without the proper “ticket of admission.”
Related to the first category, reserve type officers that are appointed while not meeting the high standards applied to full-timers, isolates the reserve group. Officers look to other officers as their lifeline in times of trouble. Full-timers need the reassurance of equivalent standards for entry and training in their reserve backup force.
Entrance standards should reflect those applied to full-timers. Anything less encourages the derisive “wannabe” label as “those officers are of a class that could make it through the full-time standards.” Even if the individual could meet those rigorous standards but chooses not to due to economic and career choices, the lack of those standards being applied to the reserve paints him or her as not measuring up.
On the training front, an agency truly committed to the reserve concept, should, while not lowering their standards, make it easier for those interested in serving their community to achieve the benchmark. For example, basic academy training should be scheduled in a manner that meets the needs of most working adults.
Sometimes, organizational structure can contribute to the discord. Departments that isolate their reserve contingent further widen the chasm that exists between reservists and full-time officers. Reserves are often relegated to the bowels of the agency (such as the basement) and are not integrated into the patrol shifts. Engaging in separate briefings and patrol stints from the regulars neither provides a learning nor collaborative environment for reserves or full-timers.
Going even a step further, an organizational chart that places the reserve operation far away from the patrol branch of the agency, traditionally the place where most reserve activity occurs, isolates the volunteer badge carriers.
I often saw, particularly in the Northeast, volunteers referred to as an “officer” in the “auxiliary police” instead of as an “auxiliary officer” in the “police department.” The former distances the auxiliary officer, while the latter fosters a department-wide inclusive approach.
Beyond the officer safety issue, differentiated uniform and vehicle markings widen the schism between the two types of law enforcers. Officers view their reserves as being less of an officer and that perception is reinforced by the differentiated appearance.
Many departments have told me over the years of instances where reserves were specifically targeted by protesters and others with the thought that it would be easier to get them angry than a regular officer. The distinctive uniform made that focus possible. A few departments even changed the uniforms to more closely or identically resemble the full-timers’ version as a result of undue problematic attention to their reserve personnel.
Speaking of uniforms, many officers I have spoken to over the years looked down on the presence of rank insignia on reserve officers. While a chain of command and supervisory positions within a reserve group is good, the visible ranks confuse the public and cause resentment on the part of full-timers.
Both full-time and reserve officers have reported to me the confusion that occurs on a scene when, for example, a reserve captain pulls up and the citizen leaves the primary officer to go talk to “the boss.” Worse yet, some civilians have been known to register complaints on officers with the gold laden reserve that arrives on scene.
Some departments, particularly larger ones where many officers do not know each other personally, delineate reserve rank by using unobtrusive uniform insignia such as colored bands on the epaulet or a different serial number on the badge
Fear of job encroachment
In many agencies, particularly those that do not have a lot of calls for police service, salaried officers fear that reserves may encroach of their tasks and thus jeopardize their jobs. While this fear is usually unfounded, there have been cases where governmental entities have misused their reserve programs. In a short-sighted move, they have used volunteer officers to replace full-timers. This is contrary to the concept of reserves which is to augment regular personnel.
Unfortunately, as so often is the case, the target of the officers’ ire becomes the reserve that complies with an order, as opposed to the organization that issues the order. Thus the reserve becomes unfairly the brunt of the anger.
I have seen this to be the case particularly in agencies that have around a long time and have strong unions. The resentment of reserves seems particularly strong in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.
Some of the animosity is driven by the presence of unions and traditions steeped in the history of the departments’ histories. On the other hand, reserves are more integrated and accepted in Western states and in the Southeast.
Interestingly, reserves in many of the states where acceptance by full-timers is highest have state standards or POST commissions that set equal or similar hiring and training standards for full-timers and reserves. Along the same lines, the reserves are equipped and deployed on a basis that mirrors their salaried counterparts.
With all of the people in society who do not have law enforcement officers on their Christmas card list, it seems silly to have fighting within the station house. The majority of the animosity rises out of misunderstandings and a less than sophisticated rollout of the reserve program. Reserves that are recruited, trained, and deployed in a professional manner should be a welcome addition to the police family. They should not be relegated to the role of black sheep of the family.
NOTE: The preceding was a column I wrote for Officer.com (February 6, 2006) when I was their “Reserve Power” columnist. While the information on police reserve officers is classic, it is still useful today. You should also check out the second part of this column called “The Flip Side: Why Some Reserves Hate Cops.”
— Dr. Richard Weinblatt, The Cop Doc