The Ultimate Sacrifice: Line of Duty Deaths Underscore Police Reserve Officers Service

Reserve Officer Russell Simpson was part of a group of officials in Bandon, Oregon, attempting to rescue a thirteen-year-old boy from the ocean surf. The 51-year-old had served as a reserve for four years with the small, but close-knit Bandon Police Department. The teen, along with others swept into the currents, were rescued on that fateful December day in 2003. All that is except for Simpson. Simpson was a retired firefighter with the Los Angeles County Fire Department in California and drowned during his efforts to save the teenager.

Auxiliary Trooper Edward W. Truelove’s actions in November 1992 saved two lives but ended with his name etched on the Connecticut Police Chief’s Memorial. Serving the Connecticut State Police on that tragic Friday night, Truelove, 73, directed the driver and passenger of a disabled automobile off of I-84 in Chesire, Connecticut, just moments before a truck driver rear-ended his marked cruiser.

Forsyth County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s Department Reserve Sergeant James Milton Johnson Sr., 59, was shot after serving law enforcement in a variety of capacities for 35 years. Milton’s actions confronting a gunman who had already shot and killed two people are believed to have saved the lives of his 10-year-old grandson and the murdered couple’s five-year-old son. Johnson’s son-in-law, a full-time deputy responded and both he and the suspect were wounded in the ensuing firefight.

In Washington, DC, Reserve Officer Joseph Pozell, 59, was directing traffic on May 14, 2005, in the Georgetown section of the district. A three-year-veteran of the Metropolitan Police, Pozell was struck by a vehicle and succumbed to his inquiries three days later. What made the death even more tragic was the presence of thousands of law enforcers in the nation’s capital for National Police Week.

Reserve officers, sometimes also known as auxiliaries or specials, serve in a variety of ways depending on the preferences of their jurisdiction. Some are armed, while others aren’t. Some reserves have full police powers, while others are more restricted in their authority. What is a common denominator is that all are subject to serious injury and even death. The situations above are but a few illustrations of the many reserves that meet the same fate.

Often unseen, reserve officers have served alongside our nation’s law enforcers and faced many of the same risks. They have also, unbeknownst to many people, made the ultimate sacrifice while in service to their neighbors. Families of reservists killed in the line of duty are often left as the only ones who remember the honorable service of their loved one.

Fortunately, there are a few organizations that have been trying to raise the profile of these officers and their ultimate sacrifice. They want the officers and their families to get the credit and recognition that they so rightfully deserve.

“Reserve officers play an important role and these deaths are reminders of the sacrifices they make,” said Chris Cosgriff, chairman of the Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. (ODMP), which has included reserve type officers on its webpage since its inception in January 1996.

“Reserve, auxiliary, or part-time does not enter into our selection process. We don’t care about the pay status of the officer,” said Cosgriff.

Craig W. Floyd, the well-known chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), also maintains a website that lists officers who have died in the line of duty. His organization also lists volunteer and part-time officers on their website, in addition to the National Law Enforcement Memorial wall located in Washington, DC.

“We had discussions early on regarding inclusion criteria,” recalled Floyd. “This past year, we clarified the criteria to include railroad officers, campus police, military police, as well as less than full-time officers.”

Floyd said that he and his staff look at the individual’s job title, job description, training, and circumstances of death. They also look at the presence of powers of arrest. Cosgriff’s website also uses the officer’s service to the agency and powers of arrest as indicators for inclusion.

Finding the Officers

Police Officer standing at parade rest.

A check of the websites reveals quite a few officers that have made the ultimate sacrifice. However, even the people running the databases have trouble identifying all of the reserves and auxiliaries that have passed away as a result of their law enforcement role.

Both said that they rely extensively on the family and friends of the officers to notify them.

“Reserve officers and families of deceased officers give us quite a bit of feedback. They thank us for including them and say that they are sometimes overlooked in the profession,” commented ODMP’s Cosgriff.

Pinning down the numbers of non-full-timer officers that have been killed is not so simple. The numbers generated by ODMP and NLEOMF are, by their own admission, probably under the actual numbers.

“We work with the Reserve Police Officers Association to try to identify officers who should be added,” said Cosgriff. He noted that the Reserve Police Officers Association also has a page on its website that lists officers.

The main way that all three of the listing organizations find out about these officers is by reading of an officer’s death with his title reflecting the status. It is the same way that they search through their databases to identify non-full-timer officers who have been killed.

Not all departments actually title their volunteer or part-time personnel with “reserve” or “auxiliary.” Numbers that are generated only reflect those with easily identifiable titles such as reserve and auxiliary.

The term special officer transcends the stereotypical reserve role in many cases and the organizations were not sure if the title search for special officer would be a true reflection of the topic of this column.

By the Numbers

NLEOMF’s Floyd and his staff searched and found that 43 non-full-time officers are listed in their database as having lost their life in the line of duty. The reserve title was borne by 24 and the remaining 19 utilized the term auxiliary.

In response to the research request, the NLEOMF also found 21 officers that had the word “special” in their title. Floyd was hesitant to include those 21 as non-full-time officers as their true status was unclear. Many specials are actually employed full-time.

“The term special generally has two meanings,” said Cosgriff.” “The first being equivalent to a reserve or auxiliary officer. The other being that the officer holds a police commission, and works full-time, but is not an official member of a town/city police department.”

Cosgriff explained further by noting that the last special officer killed, Special Officer Dwayne Reeves, “held a police commission through the Newark (NJ) Police Department, but was actually employed by the Newark School District.”

Cosgriff’s search through their database found 81 with the title reserve and 35 who had auxiliary in their rank for a total of 116. Another 106 were classified under special.

Looking at these statistics can be depressing, however information to help other officers may be gleaned from reading the profiles on the websites.

Floyd pointed out that the numbers for full-time officer deaths are starting to fall.

Important Lessons

“There has been a 36% decline in shooting deaths,” said Floyd who attributed the drop to better officer training, the wearing of bulletproof vests, and the nationwide drop in violent crime. But he also noted a 40% increase in traffic related deaths.

Floyd said this should especially be a concern for reserves, as well as the law enforcement executives who oversee reserve programs. Reserves and auxiliaries in all departments, even those in which they play a limited role, do handle traffic related duties.

“More than half the full-time officers are shot to death, but only one third (of the 43 reserve and auxiliary officers in the NLEOMF database) were shot. The vast majority of reserve and auxiliary officers were killed in traffic related functions,” said Floyd.

The sobering statistic underscores the need for managers of non-full-time law enforcement personnel to ensure that proper equipment is issued and training is done.

“They (reserves and auxiliaries) need higher visibility clothing and they should be trained to be extra careful at accident scenes,” observed Floyd after analyzing the numbers.

The deaths of reserve law enforcers are often unnoticed by all but their families and loved ones. These three organizations, and their websites, are striving to give recognition to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their neighbors. That selfless act is perhaps the most important lesson to be learned.

NOTE: The preceding was a column I to wrote for (January 2, 2006) when I was their Reserve Power columnist. While the information on Police Reserve Officers is classic, it is still useful today. This is a serious topic and underscores the service of police and sheriffs reserves to our nation. And thanks to you as always for visiting

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