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Reserve police officers getting bad press

My Opinion
Jim Uland, Guest Writer

I take extreme issue with the recent media attacks on Reserve Police Officers (RPOs). As a former RPO, I can say with absolute certainty that RPOs serve with the same level of professionalism, integrity, proficiency, sound judgment and restraint that their full-time counterparts as a whole exhibit in the performance of their daily duties.
RPOs are not paid and, in most cases, must provide their own equipment and uniforms in order to serve their communities. RPOs put their lives at risk every time they don a police uniform, and they do that willingly, selflessly and without benefit of payment for their services. They do it out of a sense of duty and love for their communities.
Police academies across this nation train new police recruits every day. But nothing taught or learned in an academy setting can or does prepare a young officer for the myriad of situations he or she will encounter once they are working in the field. Only time and experience will teach them what they need to know, not only to survive, but also to perform to the high levels expected by an over-scrutinizing public and media.
RPOs are over 40 years of age on average; whereas, the average age of a full-time police officer is about 27 years of age. Wisdom and sound judgment are a factor of age and experience and not an output of a few months of police academy training. RPOs are trained in an abbreviated version of the standard police academy curriculum and must pass the same level of firearms proficiency, emergency vehicle operations and defensive tactics as their full-time counterparts. However, the real training for any officer happens when they begin working with their field training officer in a field environment, facing real threats, challenges and opportunities for improving all of their policing skills. Most RPOs have worked in that role for many years, gaining valuable real-life experience in police procedures and tactics. They attend the exact same in-service training as their full-time counterparts and undergo continuous evaluations of their skills, performance and shortcomings.
Many police agencies simply do not have the resources to staff a force that is the size necessary to provide basic police services to the communities within their jurisdiction. The fiscal realities in many communities simply do not allow for adequate staffing or equipment budgets to support an appropriate level of service. This is where the RPOs can provide a real and positive impact to their communities. Because RPOs are not paid, their addition to the force has little impact on the strained agency budgets, but their presence has a huge impact on the agency’s ability to deliver critical law enforcement services.
Some agencies use RPOs only for administrative tasks, like the service of court papers, evidence processing, booking inmates or for courtroom security. Other agencies use RPOs for prisoner transport duties, traffic control, crowd control or for special event augmentation needs. Yet, other agencies utilize RPOs in the same patrol and response role as their full-time counterparts. They make traffic stops and answer calls for domestic violence, burglary, motor-vehicle accidents and other misdemeanor and felony offenses. I have personally answered all of these types of calls and done it with and without the benefit of the backup of another officer (RPO or full-time). I had 20 years of military experience in the U.S. Army Bomb Disposal organization, and that kind of experience demands sound judgment, quick decision making, the ability to maintain a level head in the face of a crisis and many more skills too numerous to mention here. My point is that, if I had added 16 weeks of police academy training on top of what I’ve already learned during my lifetime, I would not be one inch further ahead in my ability to provide police services to my community than I am now.
Look at this list below and ask yourself two things about each bullet point: 1.) Is it an important trait for a police officer to have?, and 2.) Can this trait be taught or learned in a police academy setting?
OK, so the first 12 came from the Boy Scout’s Oath, but the answer is the same: you cannot teach these or learn these at a police academy. These are life skills, and they are learned over years of living, not months of training.
To the thousands of unpaid RPOs who selflessly serve their communities across this nation, I say ‘Thank You’ for your service and for your willingness to help make this a better place for all of us to work, live and play.
To those who would say that RPOs have no business carrying a gun and ‘playing cop,’ I challenge you to walk a mile in their shoes before you pass such judgment.
Editor’s note: Jim Uland is a former reserve police officer with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Dept.