Reserve deputies help shore up police force

Volunteer officers have jobs, work as police for free

AIKEN --- Like many, they work hard at their jobs to bring home a paycheck. But in their spare time, they don a uniform, a badge and a weapon.

At this dangerous job, they work for free.

"If there's anything you need more of, it's definitely law enforcement," said Creighton Henderson, the captain over the Reserve Deputy program at the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

The program, which has been in Aiken County since 1985, looks to its volunteers to help fill the gaps.

All reserves go through the same training as hired deputies and have the same powers and authority. Unless citizens recognized the reserve as their lawyer, doctor or beautician, they would never know it wasn't the deputy's occupation.

"We've got doctors, lawyers, company owners, right down to your everyday mill worker," Capt. Troy Elwell said. "It's surprising how many people in the community are willing to do this for nothing other than a thank you."

When Henderson isn't on patrol, he is a contractor in Aiken County. He estimates he puts in about 500 hours a year with the sheriff's office.

The state mandates that a reserve put in a minimum of 20 hours each month.

Henderson, who has volunteered for about 20 years, said he had always enjoyed law enforcement and saw it as the perfect opportunity to give back to the community.

"Most of these guys and gals have full-time jobs, so (they'll work) holidays, weekends and nights, which is when we need the most manpower we can get," Elwell said.

"It works out to everyone's advantage."

The reserves are often utilized for large-scale events, such as the fair and Steeplechase, that the sheriff's department doesn't have the manpower to do alone.

Nonprofit groups also benefit from the reserves. Rather than paying a deputy $45 per hour, a nonprofit organization can have security for free with a reserve deputy.

The reserves exclusively knock on every sex offender's door in the county and inspect every wrecker, Henderson said.

Becoming a reserve doesn't cost a cent. Everything from training to weapons is provided for free.

Currently there are about 20 reserves, Elwell said.

The sheriff's office aims to have at least 30, but because of the economy, some reserves are having to spend more time at their paying jobs and can't commit to the mandated hours.

Want to join?

To be part of the Reserve Deputy program at Aiken County Sheriff's Office, applicants:

- Must be 21 years old

- Must be a college graduate or be able to pass a test on a college level

- Must pass a background check

- Must pass a physical

- Must volunteer a minimum of 20 hours each month

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