Steve Carlin is helping keep the peace in Owyhee County.
The U.S. Air Force veteran and longtime Boise firefighter, who now lives in Marsing, is a reserve deputy with the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Office. Last week, he worked three 12-hour overnight shifts (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.). He wears a uniform, has a badge and carries a gun — just like a regular, full-time deputy — but he isn’t paid a dime.
During this recent three-day stint, Carlin recalls being dispatched to five calls for domestic issues and about the same number of animal calls.
“Last night I was chasing cows out of the road and getting them back to their proper owners,” said Carlin, a fit 73-year-old retiree who would rather patrol lone country roads than sit in front of the TV. “It’s hard to sit down. I’m not going to sit down in a rocking chair.”
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This is not volunteer work for the risk-averse.
Like their full-time, paid counterparts, reserve deputies and officers have been killed in the line of duty: In 2013, Oregon City, Ore., Reserve Officer Robert Libke, 41, was shot in the face by a man who had attacked his own girlfriend and set his house afire.
An error made by a reserve deputy in Oklahoma on April 2 cost a man his life. While attempting to apprehend a suspect in a gun-buying sting, Tulsa Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, a 73-year-old white insurance executive, accidentally shot an unarmed black man, Eric Harris, 44, instead of using his Taser.
“I shot him. ... I’m sorry,” Bates says in a video captured by a deputy’s body camera.
Harris died a short time later, and Bates was charged with felony second-degree manslaughter.
The scandal around the incident widened after evidence surfaced that Bates, a big equipment donor to the sheriff’s office who reportedly boasted of his clout, had not received the training required for the position he held. Tulsa Sheriff Stanley Glanz announced Thursday that he was placing restrictions on the reserve program pending an audit of the department’s training records.
Treasure Valley officials interviewed for this story said they do not recall similar mishaps in Idaho. But Harris’ death has led to scrutiny of reserve programs nationwide and raised a lot of questions: How common is it for volunteer cops to work side-by-side with paid professionals? What weapons do the volunteers carry? What kind of training do they get — and is it enough? Is there an age limit?
RESERVES IN IDAHO
Many sheriff’s offices and police departments around Idaho utilize reserve deputies and officers to bolster their ranks, and each agency determines the roles they fill. Some allow reserves to fill in for full-time deputies, others do not.
The state has 2,900 patrol officers certified through the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Academy — and 300 certified reserve officers, according to data provided by POST.
Treasure Valley agencies that have reserves include Ada, Canyon, Elmore and Owyhee sheriff’s offices and the Nampa Police Department. Neither Boise nor Meridian police departments have reserves.
Canyon County has six reserve deputies. It’s had more in the past and would like to have a minimum of 12, said Capt. Dana Maxfield. Reserves are typically assigned to waterways, special events (bike races, marathons, Fourth of July celebrations) and prisoner transport. As a general rule, they do not fill in for paid deputies, and reserves who go out on patrol are paired with a full-time deputy.
Owyhee County has one of the largest reserve programs in the state — boasting a roster of 48 reserve deputies, including 21 who perform the duties of peace officers. That’s almost double the dozen paid deputies who work for the county.
When Sheriff Perry Grant took office in 2013, there were just two reserves. Grant said the reserves are an integral part of the Owyhee Sheriff’s Office, which polices 7,700 square miles — an area that’s about the size of Massachusetts.
“They cover shifts if a full-time deputy is sick,” Grant said. “They do a lot of the extra recreational jobs, off the highway, on the waterways ... jail transports. They also cover shifts in the jail.”
A full-time deputy is always available on duty or backup, Grant said.
Most reserves are not paid, but money is available for those working certain assignments. For example, those who do quagga mussel boat inspections on county waterways receive $15 an hour through the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
Grant said reserves are saving the county tens of thousands of dollars each year. He estimates the reserve deputies on unpaid assignments work 4,000 to 5,000 hours a year (an entry-level deputy makes $13.67 an hour).
He sees other advantages.
“It creates a close-knit community, that’s for sure,” said Grant. “It makes our community so much closer when you’ve got this kind of involvement.”
A FOOT IN THE DOOR
For those interested in careers in law enforcement, working as a reserve deputy is a foot in the door.
About a half-dozen of today’s full-time deputies at the Ada County Sheriff’s Office began as reserves, including Eagle Police Chief Patrick Calley and Lt. Justin Ryan, who manages jail deputies and civilian staff at the Ada County Jail.
Ron Petet, a 48-year-old retired Army pilot who lives in Marsing, said his second career is volunteering. In 2010, he got involved with the Owyhee County Sheriff’s Posse, a group that organizes fundraisers for the community, handles security for special events and is involved in search-and-rescue operations.
“We have three now in the posse out here who have been doing this 40 years,” Petet said. “It’s commitment out here.”
All members of the posse are considered reserve deputies, but they don’t all have the training to serve as peace officers.
HOW MUCH TRAINING?
In Idaho, reserves’ qualifications are distinguished by different levels of training: Levels I, II and III.
Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training in Meridian trains and certifies all of Idaho’s peace officers. It runs academies for full-time officers (POST Basic Patrol Academy) and those who work part time or as volunteers (POST Reserve Academy).
Carlin and Petet have have completed the highest-level of training (Level I), which is 216 hours at the POST Reserve Academy. Though intensive, the Reserve Academy is significantly fewer hours than the POST Basic Patrol Academy, which is 515.5 hours.
Reserves certified as Level I are qualified to carry a gun. They must pass quarterly qualifications tests to continue carrying their gun. If they don’t pass, they go through retraining.
“We haven’t had any re-training issues,” Owhyee Sheriff Grant said. “Everyone out here can shoot.”
Reserves may carry a Taser, pepper spray and night stick, but must be certified on each weapon.
Reserves with Level I certification may work on their own — without a partner — if the agency they’re working for allows it.
In 2012, the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office decided it would not allow Level I reserves to patrol unsupervised. With one exception (a retired law enforcement official), they must be with a full-time deputy when on patrol.
Canyon County Capt. Maxfield said that change came after the county insurer expressed concern.
“If you’re not doing the job day after day, after day, certain skill sets deteriorate,” Maxfield said. “Do we want to assume a liability?”
Level II training is 25 hours, and is provided by the agencies. Level II and Level III reserves work under direct supervision of full-time officers; Level III reserves aren’t involved in enforcement duties and no minimum training is specified.
In addition to the 216-hour POST academy, Level I reserve candidates also must complete 17 online courses (40 hours) that cover everything from the U.S. Constitution to Idaho traffic code to sexual assault investigation.
The POST Level I reserve training covers the same material as the 10-week academy for full-time officers, but is offered separately because so many reserve officers have other jobs. The police agency that does the hiring determines whether or not reserves must meet the physical fitness requirement.
To retain Level I certification, reserve officers must work at least 120 hours a year and complete 40 hours of continuing training every two years.
Grant, the Owyhee sheriff, said all 21 of his reserve deputies serving as peace officers have Level I training.
All of Ada County’s six deputies have had Level I training, too. After finishing that, they do eight hours of advanced academy classroom work at ACSO and are then partnered with full-time deputies for 330 hours field training.
Ada County reservists who want to be able to patrol alone must complete another 160 hours of field training with full-time deputies.
Reserve deputies invest time and money in their volunteerism. Many are required to buy their own uniforms and equipment, with costs ranging from $1,500 and up. Carlin said he spent $5,000 on his gear. He has completed 450 hours of training.
DOES AGE MATTER?
The average age of Ada County’s reserve deputies is 48, and the oldest is 67 (he’s been a reserve deputy 21 years), Ada County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Patrick Orr said. Five of the six reserve deputies have other jobs: a lawyer, a pharmacist, a paramedic and business owners.
Officials interviewed for this story said they do not have an age limit for full-time or reserve deputies.
Some U.S. law enforcement experts expressed dismay that the 73-year-old Tulsa reserve deputy was carrying a gun and serving on the street with Tulsa’s Violent Crimes Task Force. Vaughn Killeen, the 69-year-old former Ada County sheriff who is now executive director of the Idaho Sheriff’s Association, said he had a similar reaction. Most retire by their early 60s, he said, and it’s uncommon for officers that age to be in the field.
“I was kind of surprised. When you’re out in the field and doing field work, I think there should be an upper age limit,” Killeen said. “Running around out there when you’re 70 years of age and wrestling with various offenders and struggling, it’s difficult.”
Killeen said he wasn’t sure what the proper rule should be: “Maybe there should be more of a capability limit” than an age limit, he said.
Maxfield said he was bothered by the focus on age in the reaction to the Oklahoma case. He said in recent years, full-time officers in other parts of the country also have accidentally fired their guns instead of their Tasers.
“It’s a tragedy. He made a mistake, and he’s going to pay for that mistake,” Maxfield said.
Carlin, the 73-year-old Owyhee reserve deputy, said he believes it was a training issue, not an age issue.
“I would never grab a Taser if another officer was fighting with the person,” Carlin said. “I would be in the fight. In my opinion, that deputy should have been hands-on with the person on the ground.”
He said he’ll retire when he can’t provide physical and mental support to other officers.
“I’ll back off,” he said. “There’s other things I can do.”