For today’s Daily COVID-19 Report, PERF spoke with law enforcement officials who oversee reserve officer programs.

Topics included how reserve officers’ work has been impacted by the pandemic, demonstrations, and increases in some categories of violent crime.


Key Takeaways

-- Many reserve units were asked to step back at the beginning of the pandemic, so they would be ready to fill in, in the event that full-time officers became infected with the virus or needed to quarantine because of a potential exposure. However, many have resumed normal operations.

-- Reserve units are remaining flexible, and assisting with their departments’ responses to both violent crime and demonstration activity. Reserve officers have backfilled the regular assignments of career officers who have been moved to managing protests.

-- Most agencies have continued recruiting reserve officers during the pandemic, and some have seen a boost in interest. Agencies in Florida, however, are facing a unique obstacle in not being able to recruit retired officers into their reserve units.

-- Agencies have seen scattered COVID-19 infections in their reserve units, but no widespread outbreaks. Contact tracing suggests that infections have resulted from a mix of on-duty and off-duty activities.  

-- Agencies see their reserve units as an important way to build relationships of trust with the community.


Ross Wolf, Orange County, FL Sheriff’s Office Reserve Chief Deputy, and President of the Volunteer Law Enforcement Officer Alliance

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Unit is currently at our lowest number in a long time, but I’m not going to point the finger at COVID or social issues. The reason our numbers are low right now is because of a new interpretation of Florida statutes about our retirement system. This interpretation is not allowing folks who are collecting retirement from the system to work or volunteer for any other retirement system entity. So our retired law enforcement officers who would like to stay on as volunteer police or reserves are not being permitted to do so, which is greatly reducing our numbers.

Our unit is about 60% former law enforcement officers. Those officers’ tenure ranged from 3-4 years up to 30-35 years of full-time experience before coming to the reserve unit. Duties typically consist of all patrol duties. Basically we are allowed to work anywhere a full-time deputy can work.

COVID did have us scale back. My agency thought that because COVID might affect a great number of people in the agency, the reserves should serve as a back-up. When COVID first started in March, the reserves were asked to step back and be prepared to come in and work more if a large percentage of the full-time members of the agency called in sick.

We’ve had a couple of reserve officers sick with COVID, but as far as we can tell, they did not pick it up working for the agency.

We have seen a few protests in Central Florida, but those have been handled by full-time personnel and specialized units that regularly handle those types of events.

In Central Florida, most people respect the work law enforcement has done to connect with the community, and I think that reserves are an active way of bridging between the community and the police. Because of that, I don’t think that police reform measures will affect our agency or the reserve unit that much.

As President of the Volunteer Law Enforcement Officer Alliance, I’ve heard from other agencies. The Lafayette, LA Police Department told me that they were asked to stand down for a period of time but are now back patrolling. The Florida Highway Patrol was also asked to stand down in case they were needed to pick up patrol duties. Their volunteers ride with a partner most of the time, and they were concerned that being in a vehicle with another person would be a risk. In Massachusetts, reserve officers were asked to stop their normal patrols and training. They recently resumed training over Zoom and have not been asked to go back to patrol.


Ben Haiman, Executive Director of the Professional Development Bureau, Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department

Our reserve corps has a longstanding tradition within the District of Columbia and has served the citizens of D.C. since 1951. The program has grown and changed a significant amount over recent years, particularly since 2010.

We have about 100 reserve officers. They are recruited through a similar process to our career members. They then go through a comprehensive police academy that meets all the same standards as our career academy. It meets on nights and weekends, with occasional weeks throughout the training. Once the recruits graduate, they are deployed to field training, which is done in the districts. After field training, our reservists serve primarily in patrol or specialized units. About 70% are in patrol, answering calls for service in one of our seven police districts. They can operate as a two-person car with a partner or by themselves, like any other career officer. They handle calls like any other police officer in the city and are expected to perform their duties like any other police officer.

Since the pandemic hit, our reserves have continued to serve the city. We have not changed our deployment strategy for our reserves. Of course, we’ve enhanced safety protocols and ensured that our reserve officers, like our career officers, have the proper protective equipment and use appropriate precautions.

Since June we have seen considerable demonstrations, and some have crossed into riotous acts. Our reserves have worked hand-in-hand with our career officers to ensure the safety and security of residents and visitors here.

Generally speaking, our first officers to respond to First Amendment demonstrations are our Civil Disturbance Unit officers. We have some reserve members who have that formal training. Generally, that training deploys people in groups of 40. Given that we only have 100 reserve officers and likely do not have 40 of them with that training, we generally have called upon our reserves to backfill patrol assignments in the districts.

Some of our reserve officers are assigned to units that have a direct role in First Amendment demonstrations, such as the motor unit, aviation unit, and harbor patrol unit. Reservists have also been called to assist with a variety of traffic posts and closures related to the demonstrations.

Two reserve officers have had confirmed cases of COVID. That is a much lower proportion than our career side, where we have had nearly 300 officers test positive for COVID-19. It’s difficult to determine where an infection takes place, but we have reason to believe that both reservists did come into contact with the virus through the performance of their duties for the department. Both have since recovered, are doing quite well, and have returned to service.

Our reserve unit continues recruiting. We currently have a recruit class in the academy, and they are scheduled to complete their training in the middle of next year. We hope to have another class start around then.

The reserve unit is one of the prides of our city. When the community is calling for more community involvement in law enforcement, there is not a better model than volunteers who serve the city while working full-time jobs outside of policing.


Scott Finical, Reserve Assistant Chief, Phoenix Police Department

We have about 120 full-authority reserve officers. Based upon our hours of service, we have not seen any reduction in hours. And unlike other agencies that asked their reserves to step down and serve as back-ups, we were asked to step up to help support the career side.

About 50 of our reserve officers are primarily assigned to patrol, and about 70 are assigned to non-patrol assignments.

We’ve had no change to our quarterly hour requirements, which is about 240 hours annually. On average, our officers are working 300 to 600 hours a year in reserve service.

We’ve moved to some Internet-based quarterly meetings, which have turned out to be quite efficient and work out quite well.  We had a couple officers who were caring for vulnerable family members and moved away from patrol into more administrative assignments, but that’s probably only 2 or 3 of our officers.

So we haven’t seen any significant change, other than the safety protocols and precautions that all agencies across the country are implementing. All our training continues.

In May, in response to the Minneapolis incident, we deployed 86 of our officers on a mobilization on less than 7 hours’ notice. They were deployed into the city to deal with the civil unrest, including asset protection and building protection. And they were the backfill for our tactical response unit and served as arrest teams. So they were very involved in that response, and as the mobilization continued, our reserve officers continued to assist in the tactical response unit maneuvers as necessary.

Our backbone is patrol, but reserve officers have roles throughout the department. We have people in air support, special assignments, detectives, motorcycle officers, community resource officers, and school resource officers. Most of them probably have at least 20 to 25 years’ experience. The majority of our force is retired former career officers who transition over to continue to serve on the reserve side. We have continued to train new officers out of our academy.

We haven’t seen much of a challenge in recruitment. If anything, I think some of the public reaction around the country has encouraged other professionals to consider serving as a reserve officer. Our orientations are continuing on a monthly basis, and we’re seeing four or five times the level of interest that we saw two years ago. People may be deciding that it’s a good time to step up and help their communities during these challenging times. We are actively recruiting to start our next academy class in January.

Our current academy class had a few modifications, but since they go to the class on Wednesday and Thursday nights and all day Saturday, our academy training facility doesn’t have career recruits there at the time. So it was easy for us to isolate and keep our reserve recruits safe. For a couple weeks, when we had some spikes here in Phoenix, we went to web-based learning. But that was only for about two weeks out of the 10 months. The rest was in-person, hands-on training like we would normally do in a non-COVID environment.

We had two or three officers diagnosed with COVID, mostly from family or travel exposures. None of those illnesses have been tracked to work as a reserve police officer.


Stephan Brody, Reserve Division Deputy Chief, Dallas Police Department

Our reserve program was founded in 1953. Our mission has expanded over the last decade or so, to the point where we have officers serving throughout the department. We currently have about 130 on our rolls.

Our recruiting has slowed down on both the full-time and reserve sides due to COVID. Our city management has closed City Hall and the police stations to the public, so the application and interview process has slowed. We’re not recruiting like we have in the past.

We had a class going through our academy when the pandemic started. They suspended both full-time and reserve classes for a short period of time, then they broke them up and held classes all over the city so that we didn’t have any group larger than 10. We were able to get that class through and graduate them in April, but we have no classes scheduled going forward.

About half of our officers are primarily on the patrol side. We asked our officers to stand down somewhat. Many still work patrol on a periodic basis, just to keep their skills sharp. We were concerned that we would see heavy fallout on the full-time side, so we tried to keep our reserve officers in reserve. But we never had a huge increase in COVID sickness. In-person meetings and training are still suspended, but otherwise we are back fulfilling our patrol duties. We did see a huge hit in the number of hours from March through about August, but I think people will make a lot of those hours up as they get out and work.

As for the other half of our officers, a lot of those in administrative functions are still working from home. The helicopter unit is in its own facility, and we have not been introducing our officers to that environment due to fears of infecting them.

One reserve officer came down with COVID. We feel fairly certain that he contracted it as a result of his duties with the department. He has recovered.

We have seen quite an uptick in violent crime in the city. We have reengaged our patrol side to work in the high-crime areas, alongside of our violent crime task force. We have increased our number of hours and deployments to try to help with that situation.


The PERF Daily COVID-19 Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting PERF’s COVID-19 work.