When Ben O’Leary first thought about pursuing a career in law enforcement, he started out going on-ride alongs in his last year of high school for his senior project.
After graduating from the Washington State University with a degree in criminal justice and political science, O’Leary came back to his hometown to join the Bonney Lake Police Department as a reserve officer.
“I had an interest in doing law enforcement full time, and I was looking to jump start my career by volunteering first and getting acquainted with the job itself,” O’Leary said. “I felt the best way to do that was to become a reserve officer.”
What is a reserve officer?
“It is hard for people to wrap their head around what a reserve officer is,” Sgt. Ryan Boyle said. “A reserve officer is someone who is very committed to their community. They’re here putting their lives on the line, putting their lives in front of others to be out here for our community.”
According to Boyle, there are only a few big differences between reserve officers and full-time police officers.
One of them is compensation, and as a reserve officer, O’Leary receives none.
“They’re here on their own to learn to become a police officer,” Boyle said. “Some come here to give back to their community, and they aspire to do that. Others aspire to be a full-time police officer.”
The training is done a bit differently as well, although by the end, reserves get the same amount of training in the reserve police academy as in the full-time police officer academy.
“They put us through everything that the full-time academy offers,” O’Leary said. “It’s less hours than the full-time academy, however the curriculum is exactly the same.”
Besides compensation and training, though, O’Leary feels that he has the same amount of responsibility, and is held to the same high standard, as a full-time officer.
“The cool part about being a reserve for the city of Bonney Lake Police Department is as a reserve officer, you’re treated the same way a regular police officer is treated,” O’Leary said. “Some agencies use their reserves for transport only… Bonney Lake isn’t that way at all. We are treated as a normal patrol officer.”
What’s the process for becoming a reserve officer?
Before citizens can even consider being a reserve officer, they have to find a police department that will take them on, just like any regular part or full-time job.
After filling out the application to be a reserve officer, citizens must pass a physical fitness test, polygraph and background investigation, as well as interview with the police department and the chief of police.
Boyle said the process is a difficult one for the department, as they treat reserve officers just like full-time officers.
“It’s important to know where their commitment is and who they are here for,” Boyle said. “We have to trust them, and the community has to trust them, so we are really selective in who we pick for the reserve process.”
If the department takes a citizen on as a reserve officer, then they send them to the reserve academy.
It costs the Bonney Lake Police Department around $700 to send a reserve officer to academy, but that is small change compared to the financial responsibility of an up-and-coming reserve officer, because they are responsible for their own equipment, which includes the uniform, belt and other gear.
O’Leary said he spent close to $1,400 on his gear.
Getting though the reserve academy means attending more than 320 hours of instruction, three to four days a week, as well as passing numerous physical and mental tests and challenges.
“We are put through defensive tactics training. We are put through OC (mace) training. We get Taser training with exposure to what it is like to be tased,” O’Leary described. “You’re expected to get through all of that in the reserve academy.”
Once academy is over, reserves are then expected to train for a further 500 hours with a Field Training Officer at the department, going out on calls and traffic stops with their new partner.
The absolute minimum is 20 hours of training with an officer a month, or two to three days a week.
Most reserve officers are also holding a different full-time job while going through academy and training.
O’Leary currently works at Aviation Screening Enterprises in Sumner.
After finishing the 500 hours of training, reserve officers take a final test with their department to make sure they’re ready to go out on their own, “To make sure you’re able to take calls, deal with different problems that arise on your own, and handle yourself,” O’Leary said.
The Bonney Lake Police Department currently has three reserve officers, one in the academy and two others being trained in the field.
Boyle said the department accepts between 10 to 15 applications during the hiring process, but generally, only one application makes it all the way through the hiring process.
Applications are due by June 1 of every year.
Even though there is no guarantee the Bonney Lake Police department will hire a reserve officer, Boyle said reserve officers that work with the department have a high rate of getting hired in general, and around 85 percent of the BLPD started out as a reserve officer.
Reach Ray Still at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-825-2555 ext. 5058. Follow him on Twitter @rayscottstill for more news, pictures and local events.