Reserve Officers: The best kept secret in law enforcement

Are you looking for a career in law enforcement, but aren’t sure whether it’s a good fit for you? Maybe you have always wanted to be a cop, but were one of those people who were smart enough to get a good paying job and now can’t afford the pay cut? Or maybe you are looking to find a way to get hired at your dream department and want to get an inside edge? Luckily for you, there is a little known solution for all of these. The Police Reserve Officer. 

Reserve officers are usually categorized as partially or fully commissioned law enforcement officers who undergo a more condensed “Reserve Academy.” The Reserve Academy is usually held during nights and weekends so working individuals are able to attend.

Reserve officer duties and responsibilities 

Reserve programs are usually a bit different from department to department, but many will classify their reserves on a tier system. Level 1 Reserves are usually those either fresh from training or are pre-training. They are often given very little responsibility and are mainly in a training phase until they are able to start shadowing full time officers. 

Level 2 officers are allowed various levels of responsibility, depending on dept policy. Level 2 reserves will often be responding to calls along with regular officers, conducting traffic stops, transporting arrestees and taking reports. Level 2’s will usually need to be with an experienced full time officer however. This is sort of like being on FTO… Only without the pressure, because there is no time-table and if you don’t like it? Hey… You still have your day job!

Most departments try to keep Reserves from being the primary officer on any call that could require them to have to testify in court. After all… Court is a big enough pain in the ass when you are getting paid overtime. Who in their right mind would want to go for free? It could also be a disruption to the reserve officer’s regular day job and is something to be avoided.

Level 3 Officers are ones who have proven themselves able to handle themselves and are tactically and technically proficient in the required aspects of patrol. For all intents there isn’t much difference between a full-time officer and the reserve at this point. The level 3 is able to drive around on Patrol on their own, respond to calls, assist other officers and generally perform the same role as the full-time officer. The amount of time necessary to reach this level varies greatly from individual to individual and depending on the program’s policies.

There are many reasons why you should consider going through a reserve program. Here are a few examples:

#1 Learning the job while keeping your options open 

Becoming a Reserve Officer allows you to sample the law enforcement world, without having to quit your day job, uproot your family etc.

Law enforcement is one of the most misunderstood professions in the US. Many highly qualified candidates undergo the rigorous hiring process only to later find out police work is not for them. During my two law enforcement academies and one corrections academy, I observed this numerous times. It is not uncommon for recruits to get halfway through the academy, only to realize it is not for them. A very high number of those who make it through the academy do not make it through FTO, or quit within a few years. Only a quarter of my academy class still works in law enforcement at this time.

Many of these rookie officers did not really understand the danger they were in until their first “Oh shit” situation. Others find they really don’t like the constant conflict. It can be very hard to have some screaming animal in your face screaming and have to reply in a professional manner. That is, until you drop the Tactical F-Bomb! See my post on the tactical F-bomb as just another use of force tool. Many prior service individuals find they don’t mind the danger and confrontation, but don’t realize how little power law enforcement really has. Police work is more of a “perceived power” than actual power and it can be frustrating when you realize how badly your hands are tied when trying to actually help people.

#2 Being a Reserve Officer is an excellent way to network and get hired at your dream department

Law enforcement hiring can be a long and frustrating process. Agencies don’t always have an opening when you are looking to be hired. You can undergo the entire hiring process and barely miss the cutoff on the list. This causes long delays and the need to retest at a later date. Working as a reserve during that time can greatly improve your chances of being hired.

After working with a department for a while, going to the same training, responding to calls and having the backs of the full-time officers, the reserve has a huge advantage when applying for a full-time position. After all the police administrator is primarily a bureaucrat and is looking to evaluate risk when choosing new hires. The reserve who has been there for a while is a known quantity and already has a reputation as an asset or a liability among the other officers. Just make sure you are one of the guys everyone wants to work with!

#3 Serve your community in a meaningful way

Yeah yeah, I know. The usual sappy “serve your community line.” Regardless of the media’s assertion that most cops are out there to bully and harm the poor “innocent” criminals out there, it couldn’t be farthest from the truth. Ask most cops why they got into law enforcement and a common answer will be the desire to help people. After the first few years on the job, your idea of what “helping” people changes somewhat (as do your expectations of how often you truly get to do so), but deep down even the crustiest cop out there still has a desire to help.

If you are dissatisfied with the way things are now and feel more needs to be done, I challenge you to stop the Facebook trolling and negative law enforcement comments and instead put on a uniform and get out there and actually help people. Being a reserve allows you to do just that, but during times that work around your schedule, without dedicating your life to a career you may be dubious about. Who knows…you may be surprised by what you learn!


If you are interesting in working in law enforcement, check out your local reserve programs! Most reserve programs are very flexible and work very hard to accommodate to your schedule. After all, reserves usually work for either very little, or absolutely no compensation. Check out the reserve opportunities in your local area today! Law enforcement is in desperate need of manpower and help. If you are still curious about reserves here are a few articles to check out for further reading.

PoliceOne article on Reserves, including viewpoints from law enforcement professionals for and against reserve programs.

Police Magazine article on reserves.

Any reserve officers out there? Feel free to chime in with your thoughts!






Also published on Medium.

Author: Jaden Michael

Blogger, aspiring author and chronic smart-ass. Army veteran, former corrections officer, current law enforcement officer assigned to patrol.

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