Eight of the county’s 10 reserve deputies met at the sheriff’s office Thursday night. Several recognized one another as deputies from their past and all shared the same sentiment: They missed the job.
“It’s just in your blood,” Davis said. “To be a police officer, you have to love what you do.”
For Davis, the only problem was that the pay wasn’t enough to support his family. But after 12 years he’s coming back for at least 20 hours a month for free.
The reservists juggle careers ranging from real estate to high school teachers and full-time officers at other agencies. One, a recent graduate from the police academy, said the job would provide experience at a time when no one is hiring.
Lt. Lewis Blanchard said the sheriff’s office is also in a hiring freeze, making the new reserve unit even more valuable.
“For those of you who’ve been here recently, you know we need as much help as we can get,” Blanchard told the group.
The reserves could hit the streets as soon as the first week of June after being sworn in, issued uniforms and passing firearm qualification. Departments within the sheriff’s office are already requesting help from them.
Blanchard said the reservists can use their special skills from experience at other agencies to help in all fields from road patrol to criminal investigations and narcotics. On road patrol, they can work solo or in two-man crews in higher crime areas.
The reserves will be especially useful at a time like the Masters Tournament when the office needs additional manpower but doesn’t want to take away from other areas.
Blanchard said he expects to see the reserves being deployed downtown given the push for an increased presence there.
The reservists have to be certified by the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, meet the same requirements as a normal paid deputy and will have all the same authority as a paid deputy.
Tripp Haywood worked for the sheriff’s office for eight years in the 1990s and came back within the past year to work full time while maintaining a home appraisal business, but doing both was too much. Through the new unit, Haywood was able to resign from the force and start up with the reserves.
“The commitment is so much that I can’t do it full time, but I can still get out there and be with my guys,” he said.
The sheriff’s office has been working to build a team of reserves for years.
Capt. Scott Gay said former Sheriff Ronnie Strength was “adamantly against it at first.” But as crime began to increase, Strength began to see advantages, and he asked Gay to research other reserve programs.
After the research showed success from surrounding agencies, the office began searching for its first team about two years ago.
Gay said it found only “a handful” of people who were interested – not enough to start a team. The search continued, but when the sheriff’s election approached the plan fell to the side.
Blanchard said the new administration ran into several issues that delayed the start of the program to mid-2013.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for the sheriff’s office,” Gay said. “It’s something we’ve wanted for a long time and I’m glad it’s finally coming to be.”
Richmond County is one of the last agencies in the area to adapt a reserve program. Sheriffs in Columbia and Aiken counties have had programs for at least 15 years.
Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Bobby Wilson said about 60 reserve deputies aided the department at the program’s height in the late 1990s.
The unit is down to 15 reservists. Wilson said requirement changes by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy last summer led many to change their minds.
Columbia County’s program began in 1993 and has had more than 200 people participate. In 2012, the reserves provided more than 4,000 hours for free.
“Most citizens do like law enforcement,” said Columbia County sheriff’s Lt. Patricia Champion. “They are on our side and want a way to help out and give back to the community.”
Many of Columbia County’s reservists are prior officers who are returning because of their love of the job. The team has about 20 officers, but the number tends to fluctuate because the office sometimes hires from within the unit, Champion said.
Aiken County holds a free mini police academy free for reservists, so it sees much more variety.
“These people are a hodgepodge of intelligence level and background,” Wilson said. “It’s amazing the people over the years that have been involved. We’ve had attorneys and nuclear physicists.”
Wilson said he cannot stress how important reservists are. They work for free, and in a job that is known for having its risks.
“They provide a valuable service,” he said. “We couldn’t get as much done without these guys. Richmond County is going to see that, too.”