Inside Report: BRPD to bring back reserves

by Jim Mustian

Advocate staff writer

Given the risks police officers face each day, would you be willing to patrol the streets of the Capital City for no pay?

Dozens of volunteers did just this for many years — serving for several hours a month and standing by for special events and emergencies — before the Baton Rouge Police Department’s reserve program gradually lost steam.

“I considered the job to be serving my country,” said Brian Miller, a mechanical engineer who served as a reserve officer for 15 years. “I really enjoyed it.”

These days, the Police Department receives calls about the dormant reserve program on a weekly basis from a wide range of people, including folks who have gotten out of the military and others hoping to give law enforcement a try. And in the coming months, the department will seek to revive its reserve ranks.

The move comes at a time of transition for the Police Department with the recent firing of Police Chief Dewayne White and the ongoing search for his successor. Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, who was tapped to oversee the effort, met recently with Provisional Police Chief Carl Dabadie to discuss possible funding for a reserve academy, a proposal that will later go before the Metro Council for approval.

Among the roles of the new reserves will be to conduct background checks of other recruits. The department currently has to take personnel away from their other duties to perform those checks, McKneely said.

The reserves, who have arrest powers and carry guns like full-time officers, will be expected to serve at least 16 hours a month.

“It’s really and truly a community-based program,” McKneely said. “It’s beneficial all the way around. They can be our eyes and ears in the community.”

McKneely said the reserve program can be used as a recruiting tool.

“We’re planning to pool from our reserve division,” he said.

The reserve program, which has also been known as the auxiliary police force, was first established by city ordinance in June 1967.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office also has a reserve deputy program with about 60 participants.

The Police Department’s reserve program gradually began to decline because of the time and expense involved in training reserve officers, said Lt. Don Kelly, a veteran police officer who began his career in law enforcement as a reserve officer.

The officers must be trained to the same standards as regular officers, Kelly added, yet can’t be expected to attend a 20-week academy while fulfilling other commitments.

“That means training them during the evenings and/or weekends,” Kelly said, “which takes a lot longer and also creates overtime budget issues for us.”

Even without an academy, McKneely said, he hopes to begin recruiting officers who are heading into retirement.

“They have a wealth of information and knowledge that we feel would be vital to our day-to-day activity,” McKneely said.

So what would drive someone to volunteer for a job as dangerous as that of a police officer for no compensation? For folks like Miller, it’s the satisfaction of serving the community and the pride of wearing the badge.

“Some folks have always been interested in law enforcement, but the jobs they have wouldn’t allow them to do it,” McKneely said, noting that an engineer working for ExxonMobil might be disinclined to trade a six-figure salary for police pay. “They have a love for being the one in their neighborhood or community that you can actually look to to take some action.”

Jim Mustian covers law enforcement in East Baton Rouge Parish. Follow him on Twitter at @JimMustian or email him at jmustian@theadvocate.com.