CLEET Director Wants More Training For Reserve Officers
Scott Kendrick has spent a lot of time at the Council on Law Enforcement and Education Training’s campus in Ada. Last week, he stopped by to check on two Canadian County sheriff’s deputies during their defensive tactics lessons, teaching them how to get out of a chokehold.
Kendrick spent about 15 years in law enforcement as a full-time officer. He left ten years ago but decided to stay involved as a reserve deputy.
“The reason I left was because the retirement plan was pretty horrible,” Kendrick said. “I wanted the option to retire whenever that time came.”
He now works for Oklahoma Gas and Electric in their investigations division. But police work is in his blood. In his free time, he volunteers with about 12 other reserves for the Canadian County Sheriff’s Department. He’s the captain over the reserve patrol unit.
“We've got an engineer. We have laborers, we have people that own their own business, we have a plumbing contractor that’s working for us right now. We have an Oklahoma City dispatcher,” Kendrick said.
There are between 3,500 and 4,000 reserve police officers and sheriffs deputies across Oklahoma. Their gear, uniforms and duties are identical to full-time officers. According to Canadian County undersheriff Chris West, there’s no difference between the two.
“Our reserve deputies perform the same functions as the full-time deputies,” West said. “ The only difference is we don't pay them.”
But their role has come under increased scrutiny after 73-year old Tulsa County reserve deputy Robert Bates killed Eric Harris, a restrained suspect earlier this month. Bates said he confused his handgun with his taser and is now facing second degree manslaughter charges.
In state statutes, reserve officers are required to undergo 240 hours of training through the Council on Law Enforcement and Education Training (CLEET), or less than half of the 580 hours required to be a full-time officer. They can serve as much as 35 hours per week, or as infrequently as they want -- like once a year, for example. And the volunteers are not required to receive additional annual training. That’s something CLEET director Steve Emmons would like to see change.
“An officer that goes through a reserve academy can go 50 years without ever mandatorily, by statute, having to sit in another continuing education class,” Emmons said.
Some agencies, like Canadian County, provide additional training to reserves, but it is not a requirement. Initial reserve training typically takes six to eight months, so Emmons said it’s hard to ask for an additional time commitment.
“These people are volunteering their time, for the most part, and there's a hesitation to put any more responsibility onto them,” Emmons said. “I don't necessarily agree that's a good argument, but I think that's probably the biggest reason why there's been hesitation.”
Without reserves, many smaller police and sheriffs departments across the state wouldn’t be able to operate at full capacity. Tax bases aren’t big enough to hire only full-time officers.
“I'm sure that virtually all of them would prefer to staff their agencies with full-time officers. In my tenure in law enforcement, however much longer that is, I don't see that ever happening. There's just not money there,” Emmons said.
State Representative Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) believes reserve officers are an imperative part of Oklahoma’s law enforcement but said the state can do better job at training them, especially when it comes to use of force.
Christian wants a required continuing education course for all officers – not just the full timers. But that’s going to take time. The legislature is already over halfway through the session, and it’s too late for a comprehensive bill this year.
“We can't put a band-aid on a bullet hole, and I think that's what we're talking about, no pun intended,” Christian said. “After this session ends, what I would like to see is all the stakeholders, law enforcement, Ryan Kiesel with the ACLU, I think we should sit down at the table and have a comprehensive study and then come February next year have a good, comprehensive bill that we can go through.”
Christian hopes lawmakers can include online annual training in a current bill’s amendments this session. Meanwhile, CLEET’s director Steve Emmons said if he has the chance to promote additional course, he’ll take it.
“No question about it, you're getting two different levels of law enforcement officers between the full time and the reserves,” Emmons said.
Emmons said the situation in Tulsa is an anomaly, that most of these reserve officers are pretty cautious. As far he sees it, any training that makes them a more effective -- and safer -- part of law enforcement is worth it.