THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO EVERY COIN
My first days in uniform were spent in the role of a reserve officer. I keenly felt what it was like there. In more recent times, I have earned my full certification as a police officer. I am now in a role that previously I could only observe and contemplate. Now, I have experienced it.
Today, I want to make a plea for cohesiveness, for unity, for compassion and for an attitude of encouragement among and across all law enforcement disciplines. Today, I believe there is no longer room for one segment or another proclaiming themselves to be the REAL cops where all others are somehow in a second-place position.
In order to be clear, I want to define the words “reserve” and or “auxiliary” police officer because they have widely different meanings, depending on where one travels in the U.S. For purposes of this writing, the terms reserve and auxiliary are synonymous and will be used interchangeably.
A reserve officer identifies a person who derives the bulk of their income in a field other than that of being a police officer.
It may be a young person who works a day job as a laborer, a professional who practices his/her skill elsewhere, it may be anyone who gets their paycheck elsewhere but donates their time and other resources to law enforcement activities.
It may also be a career officer who has retired and wants to stay connected and in the mix, but not full-time.
Some of these folks see the role of reserve as an entrance point into a law enforcement career. Others simply want to give something back to their community. No matter the motivation, the result is that they usually pay for their own training, their own gear, and donate their time for free.
Career officers, on the other hand, are the professionals who have chosen law enforcement as their career. It is how they earn a living to support themselves and their families. In most cases, they have earned a state certification, attended an academy, and have attained all of the accomplishments associated with being a “full time” or career officer.
Enough housekeeping. Now to my point.
WHO IS DOING THE WHINING?
The Career Cops
My former department had a large contingent of reserve officers. Most of the career guys appreciated the help. There were a few career cops, however, who constantly ran their mouths about the reserves:
- “Those guys are stealing my overtime.”
- “They don’t know what they are doing and when ever they are on a call with me, I must worry about covering for their stupid mistakes.”
- “I don’t trust them. I just can’t count on them being there when I need them and that they will do the right thing.”
A few of the career guys seemed to just lay in waiting for one of the reserves to make any small mistake and they would blow it all out of proportion.
As a member of the reserve unit, I was required to attend a weekly meeting/roll call. The list of complaints coming from the reserves regarding the career cops was steady:
- “They treat us like second-class citizens. “
- “We get no respect; they are rude to us.”
- “Our tactics are better than some of those guys: they are ill-mannered with citizens, lax, and complacent on officer safety.”
- “They are so arrogant, acting like they are better than us.”
FACTS OF LIFE
Cops live by labels: rank, groups, etc. Their minds put a label on everyone they encounter. Members in the department can be a sergeant, a lieutenant, part of the narc squad, a reserve, one of the administration, and so forth. Members of the public whom they don’t know are generally put under the heading of “asshole.” (Which is unfortunate)
We humans allow labels to affect how we behave. As a reserve cop, if I’ve been hung with the label of second-class, then I will probably behave in a way that matches the expectation by deferring to anyone who isn’t considered second-class.
If I’m a career cop and consider the reserves to be poorly trained or unpredictable, then I will unavoidably filter every interaction with a reserves through that filter. I am likely to be hyper-critical of reserve so that an action from a reserve would bring my criticism while the very same action from a career cop would not.
If we can successfully get past those labels, we tend to judge one another individually based upon demonstrated performance in areas of honesty, ethics, capabilities, and consistent performance.
The best example: the FNG hired in an agency will be judged by the old-timers only after they have seen him in action. It is when the old-timers know, first-hand that the FNG can be counted upon that he will be accepted.
That’s understandable and acceptable.
We can no longer afford to discount or diminish entire groups of people because of the label they carry.
I am not suggesting that flaws or deficiencies be ignored — far from it.
I recently finished a book by Kevin Gilmartin entitled, “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement.” It was awesome and enlightening. It described some of the cops that I’ve worked with. Gilmartin describes the “Victim Mentality:” bitter, disengaged, angry, constantly complains, and looks for things to be pissed-off about.
Gilmartin must have been describing the union VP in my last agency. It fit him perfectly. And, when it came to reserves, Mr. VP was never at a loss for something to complain about. But then, Mr. VP was never at a loss. When a complaint was needed, old John was “Johnny on the spot.”
There were many reserves that felt down-trodden by him and resented him, in return.
FROM BOTH SIDES
A career officer has worked very hard to earn his place. He has attended an academy, and passed a state exam. He has been scrutinized by many and gone through the arduous application process. He puts his life on the line at least 40 hours each week – and usually more. His personal life has often been sacrificed for the job.
Everything he does is under microscopic examination. A serious mistake can end his career – in fact, it can end his identity as he knows it. That’s a level of performance pressure that few people feel in their careers, yet a career cop lives with it every day.
Are there a few bad applies in the lot? A guy who slipped through the selection process, who curries favoritism with the chief, hides from calls in his area, behaves like a slug, kisses the right asses, and who will stab a fellow officer in the back without hesitation is in our midst.
Thankfully, those guys are few in number. Most of us recognize them for what they are and keep a safe distance.
Reserve officers see their lot in life differently. While working a regular job, they have spent the time (and often money) to get the required training to be a reserve cop.
In most cases, they have spent a few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand bucks to get “geared-up.” They genuinely want to help and make a meaningful difference for their community, their agency, and the cops with whom they work.
They arrive to work after they’ve ended their regular paying work day. They willingly take the bullshit jobs, i.e. directing traffic, booking prisoners, running errands for the dispatchers, babysitting flares, and the like are their role. They realize that these tasks must be done and because a reserve cop handles them, the career cops can attend to the more important stuff.
Depending on the agency, the frequency with which they get into the mix with the career guys on calls varies widely. But, the reserves stand at the ready to backup their brothers, when needed. They are putting their lives on the line and they know that reserve cops get killed in the line of duty, too.
Reserve officers have been appropriately termed CITIZEN PATRIOTS. They share a common heritage with the early settlers of our country who fought the good fight and did it for free, because it was the right thing to do. Amen.
Are there problem children here, too? You bet. Some agencies are very lax in the selection process. Those agencies don’t realize that a team of volunteers must be managed differently than a team of cops who are paid.
There are reserves that are there only so they can carry a gun and badge for bragging rights or other equally wrong motivating reasons. While a reserve may get training at the outset, anything beyond that is unpredictable and usually little more than a laughable waste of time.
SO, WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
As an individual cop, how can you affect the relationship between career and reserve cops? The list is pretty short: your attitude, your dedication to the job and doing the right thing, your perseverance, and your demeanor. You can decide to be the best cop you can possibly be, no matter what role you play.
I’ve taught in reserve academies for many years. I’ve heard recruits lament about the discord between reserves and career officers. My response has been consistent: If you want to be treated like a cop, act like a cop. Perform dependably and consistently. Adhere to the Code of Ethics. Act like you mean it from your heart. Be there for your brothers and don’t ever fail them.
REMEMBER ALWAYS: There are NO unimportant jobs.
WE ARE BEING OVERWHELMED
Today, there are more demands than ever before. There are more bad guys, and they have better weapons and are better practiced than any adversary we’ve faced in the past. There are terrorists who would do us great harm on a national level. There are active shooters who threaten us at the core – our children in schools.
Our agencies have smaller budgets.
Most patrol crews are running short.
If all that weren’t bad enough, asshole lawyers (some of them) are seeking wild liability awards from our employers. Reacting as expected, decision makers who are above us on the food chain are being guided more by their desire to avoid liability than on choosing the best course of action.
We now need every able-bodied hand on deck. Period.
AS A CAREER COP, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you’re a career officer, consider becoming engaged in your agency’s reserve program. If your agency doesn’t have a method for volunteers to help, you might want to suggest starting one.
Some years ago, I drafted a business model that laid out how a department could create a reserve program from scratch. It has been successfully put to use many times over. If you’d like a copy, send me an email requesting it and I’ll send it along.
Offer to review and suggest improvements for the selection and training processes for reserves. That will ensure you get the best available talent.
AS A RESERVE COP, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Volunteers are motivated differently that you. They are excited about being a cop. They want to make a viable contribution and they need different kinds of rewards than you.
If you’re a reserve officer, make sure that you’re tuned-in to the needs of the career guys. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Don’t let some jackass administrator put a wedge between you. You live and die together.
Help to improve the selection and in-service training programs. The best reserve programs are those that train career and reserve officers together, side-by-side. That keeps everyone operating in lockstep. Maybe you can make that happen where you are.
Realize that for your career brothers, this job is their livelihood. Any threat to it threatens the well-being of their families.
When you are in uniform, take the job as seriously as a heart attack. You are not there for a walk in the park. You are doing the one job where people want to kill you because of the clothes you are wearing. Yes, I said, “kill you.” Remember that.
Finally, remember that some of the career officers have become emotional wrecks. They are assholes at home just the same as they are at work. Don’t take it personally when they grouse about, “reserves.” These guys grouse about everything. Tune them out.
The debate about who is the REAL cop needs to end. We can spend our time debating Sigs vs. Glocks.
We are under siege.
Our resources are limited.
We live in a country that was born of volunteers and those volunteers continue to be at the core of its strength. If you doubt that, just look at our military. God bless them all.
Volunteers need to take the job seriously. Our existence depends upon it.
Career officers need to focus on encouraging, supporting, and assisting in the development of volunteer talent – rather than attacking it.
There is plenty of work to go around. The world is full of bad guys and there is no sign that the supply will grow short anytime soon.
At the bottom line, this all about saving just ONE life.
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