Sheriff announces disbanding of reserve unit in 'disheartening' memo
Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins cited state proposals of police reform and increased training requirements for reserves as reasons for folding the unit
By Becca Robbins
VANCOUVER , Wash. — After more than eight years as a commissioned reserve deputy with the Clark County Sheriff's Office, reserve unit commander Bob Christian is preparing to turn in his department-issued uniform. But not because he's quitting the unit.
Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins sent a memo on May 3 to his corps of 14 volunteer reserve deputies informing them that he was ending the program that has supplemented the department since 1952.
Christian called the news "disheartening."
Atkins, in his memo, cited state proposals of police reform and increased training requirements for reserves as reasons for folding the unit.
"(The Criminal Justice Training Commission) has considered rule making year-after-year with the intention of limiting more and more the duties and responsibilities allowed to be performed by reserve deputies and officers," the memo stated.
"This year, the newly proposed reserve officer training hour requirements, both academy and ongoing post-academy as proposed by the current CJTC commission would represent a significant investment on any agency maintaining a reserve program, and on the individual reserve deputies and officers themselves," Atkins' memo continued. "This, along with the personal liability officers are facing in our current climate are the main reasons for my decision."
The last day of uniformed patrol enforcement for the reserve deputies was May 31. As Christian works to disband the unit, he reflected on the ways they've served as a link between the full-time sheriff's office deputies and the community.
"We've made it through a lot of different changes over the years," Christian said.
From traffic control for parades to enforcing crime scene perimeters to guarding suspects at hospitals, Christian worries about what the absence of reserve deputies will mean for the Clark County Sheriff's Office.
During a time when Christian is seeing officers leaving law enforcement because of the increased public scrutiny, he said he disagrees with the sheriff's decision to dismiss a group of people who want to give back to their community without the benefit of pay.
"Not many people are running toward a problem, instead of away from it," he said. "And here you have 14 who are willing to do it for free."
The reserve unit is a fraction of what it used to be. The unit used to have as many as 50 reserve deputies, with an annual Reserve Academy to train new recruits. Now, there hasn't been a local academy for years; and each year, more of the commissioned reserve deputies retire.
"But we're a mighty 14," Christian said.
Clark County sheriff's Sgt. Brent Waddell said the ever-changing requirements for law enforcement makes staying current on certifications and trainings especially challenging for volunteers who often have a day job outside of law enforcement.
Waddell, who serves as the public information officer for the sheriff's office, began his career as a reserve deputy and noted that many others in the agency did the same. When Waddell was involved, there were around 40 to 50 reserves, he said.
Still, Waddell said, the sheriff's decision to end the reserve program was a tough one and that Atkins took his time considering the data and discussing with commanders in the agency before making the final call. Clark County is the latest department to shutter its reserve program as agencies across the country have stopped accepting volunteers, according to Waddell.
Although reserve deputies undergo some of the same training as full-time deputies, Waddell said the department needs to focus its resources on training and recruiting officers who are eligible for the entire spectrum of law enforcement duties.
Waddell acknowledged the important work the reserve unit has done to support the sheriff's office and said the agency will work to fulfill those responsibilities with full-time officers.
He called the reserve deputies "dedicated" and noted their passion for giving back to the community.
A statement from the deputy union says: "The Clark County Deputy Sheriff's Guild recognizes the difficult decision which the Clark County Sheriff's Office administration was faced with in determining the outcome of the Reserve Deputy Program. The men and women who volunteered their time in service to their community and the citizens of Clark County are humbly appreciated and will be sincerely missed. The DSG hopes for positive collaboration with the Sheriff's Office Administration in finding ways to fill the voids created by the loss of the Reserve Deputy Program. We extend our gratitude to the years of dedicated service and commitment which the Reserve Deputies brought to our ranks."
The reserve unit often served as a pipeline for those who wanted to become full-time deputies. Christian recalled 65 reserves who had transitioned to full time, with some going to other nearby agencies, too.
Christian said he wasn't looking to make a career out of law enforcement. He joined the reserves for the opportunity to give back to his community, he said, outside of his day job as a corporate executive.
Reserve Deputy Bob Byrd, formerly the unit's commander, noted in an email to The Columbian that he found his time spent on school zone enforcement the most impactful. He said his presence alone often slowed people down, although a full-time deputy might not have the time to spend the day enforcing a school zone. He said he located half a dozen missing children during his 10 years as a reserve.
Christian usually spent about 40 to 50 hours a month on nights and weekends answering the call for reserves — whether that be providing backup to patrol units or escorting Santa Claus to meet underprivileged kids.
The idea of turning in his badge hasn't set in yet for Christian.
"Right now, I'm working to disband the program that I love," he said.
In addition to a gap in the services that the reserves provide, Christian said, "We find it will leave a big hole for us."
Now facing the prospect of more free time, Christian said several of the members are contacting other nearby agencies to see if they're willing to take on reserves.
"Most of us are not done serving our community," he said.
They're expecting to have their final meeting and wrap up the unit in July. Until then, Christian is planning a way to recognize the members for their service.
(c)2021 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)