Ask the Chief: Reserve or Full Time Officer

Q. “Should I look for a position as a reserve officer and obtain my college degree or take a position that has been offered as a full time officer?”



A.The basic question is what do you want to do? Do you want to finish college now or several years down the road? In the 70’s and 80’s some people did become reserves prior to becoming regular sworn officers but usually there were certain circumstances surrounding these decisions. 

 For example, when I started in the 60's if you wanted to be a career police officer you strived for full time status. Usually, only volunteers were reserves. In the 80's, when I became a Police Chief, we were paying reserves (no benefits) and utilizing them for more demanding functions.  The qualifications to become a reserve changed as did the requirements for the reserve academy.  With this in mind we looked at reserves differently and if we had a full compliment of sworn police officers we would ask the candidate if he/she would be willing to work as a reserve officer until an opening occurred. 

 This was for two reasons: 


  1. We could review the reserve officer and determine if they met our standards and would fit into our department as well as avoiding the time and expense of academy training. This benefitted the department as well as giving the candidate on the job training to learn if the department was a "fit" for them.
  2. The reserve officer would help the manpower of the department and not cost as much as a full time sworn officer. I am not trying to sound cold but you have to remember this is a business with tight budgets and the officer is a resource. Often times we have individuals who don't want to be full time police officers but just want to give back to the community and they are full time reserves.  


Now, back to your question... I firmly believe that if you have an opportunity to be a full time police officer, then take the position. You really don't know when the next opening will occur and you may be on the outside looking in, especially in these unsteady times. I believe that you have to continue your education but you can complete it during your career. You probably won't attend classes during your first year on the job because you will be attempting to pass probation and your attention should be directed towards that goal. After you pass probation, then you may begin to complete your education. It may only be one or two classes a semester but you will be on the road to obtaining your degree. 

If you currently have a department doing your background then they have an interest in you now and they are spending time and money on you and they need a commitment. In this economy we can't always plan ahead the way we would like. When looking for a job or career in law enforcement you have to accept the position, if that is truly what you want to do, because there are several other candidates waiting to take your place. Remember many agencies have a freeze on hiring because of budget constraints.

Stay positive.

If any of you have any other ideas or suggestions, I would like to hear from you. Also if there are any topics you wish to discuss, let me know by using our "Ask the Chief" form at the top of the page.


You Don’t Have a Right to Wear a Badge: Respect Your Badge

Several times during my 37 years in law enforcement I observed that a few officers always felt they had a RIGHT to wear their badges. Over the years they had forgotten how precious that badge is and that they were privileged to be a part of the law enforcement tradition. As a police chief I had my “WSMs” just like every other department and these were my “whining, sniveling, malcontents.” I called them my five percenters. You know who I am talking about. If you gave them a raise today, they would complain that they did not receive it yesterday. These are the officers who lack integrity, values, ethics and believe that gratuities are justified because they work in such a dangerous environment they are entitled to them. Give me a break.

Now everything I am stating are my opinions and observations and I am not asking anyone to agree or disagree with them. I also realize I am preaching to the choir and I believe if we can do something to assist other officers from tarnishing the badge then it is all the better for our profession.

To me wearing the badge is a great privilege and I would do everything in my power not to see the badge tarnished. Remember a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and so are we as law enforcement officers, only as good as our weakest officer. When an officer goes bad, we all suffer for it. It doesn’t matter which department they represent. They carry a badge and that is all the public sees.

Officers who wear a badge are a special few. If you don’t think so, remember your academy class. How many candidates started with you and how many actually finished. Of those how many are actively involved in law enforcement today or honorably retired. We are a special breed.

Early in my career a large California police department had a scandal where several officers were arrested for committing burglaries while on duty. When asked how this could happen, one of the young involved officers related that after awhile the uniform began to fit like an old pair of jeans and the badge wasn’t as shinny. He also felt that police work didn’t feel the same anymore and he wanted to fit in and be one of the boys and that is why he started to do the burglaries. He knew it was wrong but he wanted his fellow officers to like him. You can draw your own conclusions as to why he was involved. My personal observation is that he was just weak and shouldn’t have been wearing the badge to begin with.

We are very hard on our fellow officers and we demand that they uphold the laws they have sworn to enforce and adhere to the rules and regulations of the department andwe do a very good job. Less than one percent misfit that uniform. That is a better average than the clergy, but we have to constantly strive to improve.

As you can tell I am passionate about our badge and in 1983 I read an article written by George H. Savord, former Chief of Police of Cypress, California entitled “This is Your Badge.” I review it often and read it in my classes, no matter what the rank of the participants. Some times I feel, we get so busy in our professional and personal lives that I think it necessary to take a step back from time to time and remember what we are about. With that in mind, I would like to share Chief Savord’s article with you.

This is your Badge

It is lifeless, made of metal. A die has stamped it from rough stock, shaped it in traditional design and inscribed the word “Police.” It has been plated and polished, sold for profit.

Now It Is Yours

It is a symbol of Americanism. It is law, order, justice and freedom. It is the Bill of Rights, The Constitution, E Pluribus Unum, the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Badge Lives

It is a courageous defender--brave, noble wise and strong. It laughs and cries--knows fear and tragedy. It represents fairness, honesty dependability. Possession of it transforms you from citizen to sentinel--guardian of the safety and welfare of others.

Display It With Dignity

Wear it with pride. Stand tall behind it. Defend its principles. Emulate the qualities it represents. Treasure it, polish it, keep it gleaming--the reflection of the badge is one of hope peace and security.

Respect your badge and others will too.


Should I stay or should I go?

Many times during my career, officers have approached me and asked whether they should stay in their current assignment where they are comfortable or leave it for a specialty assignment or promotion. As a matter of fact I have asked myself this question on numerous occasions.

Now the important part - there is no right or wrong answer to this question. I almost sound like a politician. 

But this is my reasoning: you have to make a decision that will affect your future and you have to be happy with the results. You and only you can make these decisions. Below, I hope to give you some guidelines that will assist you in this decision making process.

Many of you are content being life long patrol officers and that is ok as we need good seasoned officers who will remain productive. On the other side of the coin there are many of you who want the specialty assignments that are associated with law enforcement but this comes with a warning that these assignments may not always be what you expect and you have to understand this before you take the position. 

Many times when an officer is assigned to one of these positions they may feel this is what they always wanted and they will end their career in this assignment. That is not always the case. In my agency you kept the specialty assignment for approximately five years then rotated back into the patrol force with the expectation that you would be a more rounded officer and could share your acquired knowledge with your fellow officers. Be sure to investigate what rules and regulations your department has regarding these assignments. 

The good side to accepting these various positions is that it will greatly improve your knowledge within the department and law enforcement in general which will make you a more viable candidate for future promotions. These are some of the decisions I had to make. Should I stay in my detective position or try for advancement within the department. I always stated that if I could be Chief of Police and a detective at the same time, I would be in hog heaven. But I had to decide which way my career would travel and opted for advancement as I wanted the challenges associated with the supervisory positions and never looked back.

If you decide to go this route, lets take a few moments and discuss the possibilities of promotions within your agency. This is where you have to really sit down and think about the direction you want your career to travel. When you start up the supervisory ladder your responsibilities will change and you have to be willing to accept them. For example: as a patrol officer you are only responsible for your beat and the calls and reports you receive during your tour of duty. At the end of your watch you change out of your uniform and go home. As a supervisor your span of control increases and you are now responsible for everything that happens on your shift, all of the beats, the calls, reports and the officers and their actions. Then you have your paperwork on top of that, along with any projects given to you by your supervisors and when you go home you are still thinking about everything that occurred tonight and what will happen tomorrow and how to prepare for it.

If you are thinking of becoming a supervisor you must also decide if you are ready to give up the streets. This is really a tough decision because you will not be the star player anymore.

I have always related the supervisory positions to the various positions on a baseball field:

As an officer you were the star player and were involved in the day to day field activities such as making arrests, going to court and being involved in various assignments etc.

Then when you advance to Sergeant you are now on the sidelines as the base coach. You are still in the field but now you are the first line supervisor and have contact with all of the troops. You monitor all of the activities of your officers and help to develop them. You keep the pulse of the organization by having first hand information as to what your personnel are thinking and need as well as what the Administration is thinking and of their needs.

When you promote to Lieutenant this position is similar to the manager of the team who remains in the “dugout” off the field. You are in charge of everything that takes place “between the lines,” only you are not directly involved in how it is being accomplished.

The Captain or Division Commander is like the General Manager who is off the field and watching the game from his box. You are responsible for the officers and supervisors and must develop these individuals to perform as a unit and have the same philosophy as the Chief of Police.

Now you become the Chief of Police which is the owner of the baseball team. You are away from the day to day involvement in the field but are responsible for all the activities of the sworn and non sworn personnel who help run the department. You not only monitor everything but you are responsible for everything that occurs in the city.

The best reason for becoming a supervisor is that you will be a manager in your agency and be a vital player in the development of your subordinates and the department; this should be your prime motivational factor. If you let money be your only motivation for accepting advancement you will be doomed to failure because you do not have the proper reason for being a supervisor and will probably place a hardship on your. My personal feelings of why one would want to became  a supervisor are that you will face new challenges such as becoming a mentor, a confidant, a cheerleader, a disciplinarian and you will be able to help other personnel develop their breadth of knowledge in their chosen profession  and besides all of that - it’s fun!

I hope I have given you thoughts to ponder when it comes time for you to make some very interesting choices during your law enforcement career and you ask yourself the question:

Should I stay or should I go?

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