Police officers put their lives on the line every time they suit up and start duty. No one can predict what each day will bring or where a call might bring an officer.
Working alongside the officers of the Prairie City Police Department is a group of volunteer reserves, individuals who give their time to help keep the community safe and secure. Not paid and trained on their own dime, the reserves bring an additional layer of protection to the city and the police officers patrolling the town.
“It is volunteer. We get hours and hours of work and supplemental law enforcement coverage essentially for free,” Prairie City Police Chief Joe Bartello said. “Operational cost of vehicles and fuel but, to me, it is really offset by what we benefit as a community for having that.”
Bartello said reserve officers can do everything a certified law enforcement officer can, including work investigations, issue citations, issue criminal complaints and do an operating while intoxicated investigation. Their uniform is the same as a patrolling officer except on their badge it has an “R” before the identification number.
The only area where a reserve officer cannot conduct business is invoking an implied consent form, which is an Iowa Department of Transportation form that is required before taking a sample or request a sample of blood, breath or urine on someone that is under an OWI investigation.
“Reserve officers in the state of Iowa are given full law enforcement duties, with that one exception,” Bartello said.
The Prairie City reserve program has been in place for more than a decade. It was also at about that time the state revamped its requirements for the education portion to certify a reserve officer. Prior to then, Bartello said it was up to the individual agency to set certification standards.
“Now there is required training through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy for the officers to go through,” Bartello said. “It is extensive enough that they have a year and a half to complete the training. There is a lot of education requirement, time requirement. Firearms are also included in that. They are certified with the department the same as any other officer is required.”
Bartello said the book work required is similar to what the cadets at the academy go through for training. While the department can often find free training for the reserves, all costs associated with education for the volunteer position are up to the interested citizen.
In Prairie City, Bartello said he looks for 16 hours of volunteer time, or two shifts, each month from the reserves. On a typical shift, the reserve either works with another reserve officer or a patrolling officer.
While the program has many supporters, Bartello said he has also faced criticism about the added patrol.
“I think in a small town you are always going to fight perception and I understand that, the biggest criticism we have is, why do we need two officers on at a time,” Bartello said. “To me, nowadays, I think that is really an officer safety thing, a community safety thing. Just about any police department wishes they could have two officers in a car, two sets of eyes always watching each other backs, just being safer for the police officer means the community is safer. If something happens to our one patrol officer, our whole community is affected by that. Having more eyes on the street really deters crime. Our presence alone is itself a level of force and a huge deterrent for crime.”
The program can also serve as a jumping off point for citizens interested in making a career in law enforcement. Having the experience and education from working as a reserve can go a long way when looking at a potential hire for a police department, Bartello said.
Bartello said, in the end, he sees the program as only beneficial for the city, it’s citizens and the patrolling officers who work to protect it.
“Just about any police department wishes they could have two officers in a car, two sets of eyes always watching each others backs,” Bartello said. “Just being safer for the police officer means the community is safer.”
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or firstname.lastname@example.org