Reserve deputies vital to sheriff’s office

Volunteers now receive same training as their paid counterparts

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

Published:

 

If you go

What: Anyone interested in becoming a reserve deputy can attend an informational meeting.

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: West Precinct, 505 N.W. 179th St., Ridgefield.

Information: Reserve Deputies or SheriffCommunityOutreach

@clark.wa.gov.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office is looking for volunteers interested in training to become a state-recognized law enforcement officer without making it an occupation.

Reserve deputies are fully commissioned law officers who volunteer time to work at the sheriff’s office. They may respond to 911 calls, provide traffic control for community events or guard large crime scenes. Some deputies volunteer nights and weekends while also holding a full-time job, others are retired from full-time work and some use it as a way to get into a law enforcement career.

“I don’t think the sheriff’s office could provide the level of service that we do without the reserves,” said Sgt. Shane Gardner, who is looking for new recruits to join the program in the first part of 2013.

He said reserves work on patrol duty and also at community events that the sheriff’s office can’t staff with paid deputies.

“We don’t have the manpower to pull somebody off patrol and put them at a Christmas party,” he said. Reserves also work two big summer events: the Clark County Fair and the Hazel Dell Parade of Bands.

Reserve Cmdr. Bob Winsor said that in 2011, reserve deputies worked at least 80 hours at high school events, including dances, games and graduations, and 726 hours at fundraising runs and parades.

Winsor, the retired administrator of Clark County District Court, got involved with the reserve program nearly 42 years ago because he was interested in law enforcement. He’s seen a lot of changes over the years.

When he started volunteering, deputies (both reserve and regular) had to buy their own uniforms and weapon, and pay a badge deposit. Most reserves didn’t get to ride in sheriff’s vehicles very often. They went through one week of training before learning a lot on the job.

Now the sheriff’s office picks up the tab for equipment. Reserve deputies can advance to the point where they can ride along first with a full-time deputy and then with another reservist before venturing out by themselves.

One of the biggest changes is, reserve deputies now get the same training as full-timers. That includes putting in 300 hours at the academy — two nights a week, plus most Saturdays, for six months.

“It’s quite a commitment” from the individual and his or her family, Winsor said.

At the end of academy, recruits take a test offered by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, said reserve Sgt. Debora Wonderly. If they pass, they’re a fully commissioned police officer and will spend 12 months on probation shadowing a full-time deputy.

She said working in the reserve program gave her a greater appreciation for the men and women who do the work day in and day out.

“We do this on a volunteer basis but they do this every day,” she said. “It’s a lot more difficult than I ever anticipated.”

You never know what calls you’re going to come across on a daily basis, she said.

Sgt. Rich Wilson has responded to a shooting, cleared a building, watched a back exit to a building and done other things as a reserve deputy.

It’s a nights and weekends thing for Wilson, who spends his days as the regional fleet manager at Frito-Lay. He’s been in the program for about six years.

Wilson was an Explorer with the sheriff’s office in high school and wanted to be in law enforcement since childhood. When his kids grew up, he thought the reserve program was an opportunity to get involved and give back to the community.

Some evenings he will work for 10 hours, get off, go home, sleep for four hours and go to work.

“Some days are harder than others,” he said. “It’s easy to stay up till 3 a.m.,” but getting up the next day is something different.

He has two or three regular deputy partners he works with.

“You’re doing everything” they do, he said.

The only way to tell the difference between a reserve deputy and a full-timer is if someone is close enough to read the badge, he said.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Fred Neiman has worn both a reserve badge and a regular deputy’s badge. He started his law enforcement career in the sheriff’s office in 1980 as a reserve deputy. One of his first assignments was guarding the entrance to Yale Bridge Road with another reserve deputy after Mount St. Helens erupted.

“It was quite a scramble,” he said.

Nobody knew if St. Helens would explode again or if lava would start flowing down the hills, Neiman said. He said the sheriff’s office had units guarding that area 24 hours a day for at least several weeks. Reserves were able to keep people out of the red zone while full-time, paid deputies could help with emergency response in neighboring counties.

He said the reserve program was a way for him to see if he would be interested in making his way into the career. It may also help with his transition out of it.

“When I retire from here … I have every intention of leaving a full-time position and becoming a reserve again,” he said.