Agencies rely increasingly on reserve deputies paid little or nothing

Cities net millions in savings

INDIANAPOLIS - Tighter budgets are of little concern for people who call 911 to request help from emergency responders, but cities and counties aiming to relieve a financial crunch have gotten creative.

For $5, you can get a box of cereal, a new light bulb, or almost buy a Happy Meal at McDonald's.

That same $5 pays for a reserve deputy at the Marion County Sheriff's Department, with duties that include tracking down child molesters, con artists and fugitives.

Marion County alone has as many as 25,000 active warrants on any given day. The Marion County Sheriff's Department now has 56 reserve deputies, up from 19 in 2009.

Reserve deputies are out at all hours of the day seven days a week. Their victories are dependent on who they find behind closed doors, hiding from the law.

They are trained officers, given a vehicle, gun and the power to arrest. The uniform signifies that they're the real deal, though they are volunteers.

Sgt. Terry Wilds, a mechanical contractor, is in his 37th year as a reserve deputy.

"With crime being like it is, it's certainly worse than what it was 20 years ago," Wilds said. "I think every police agency can enjoy the additional support the reserves give, and there's a place for all of us in this community."

Other reserve deputies include Alex Hernandez, a teacher who has been on the force for three years, Jonathon Kempler, a Pike Township fire investigator, and John Barrow and Susan Perkins, both Indianapolis Public Schools police officers.

The Call 6 Investigators found that police agencies are leaning more on the reserves as budgets get tighter.

Last year, reserve deputies for the Marion County Sheriff's Department worked nearly 24,000 hours, equaling about $780,000 worth of work not charged to taxpayers. In 2012, they worked 22,693 hours, totaling $750,000 in savings.

Up to $471,000 in savings was realized in Hamilton County, thanks to the effort of 36 reserves, up from 20 in 2009.

Johnson County reserves volunteered $100,000 in free labor. Five reserves have been added in that county within the last five years.

"I probably worked a few extra hours than I should have. I should have stayed at home sometimes, but that's what we do," Wilds said.

Regardless of the season or time of day, the reserves are filling necessary roles none of the agencies can afford to pay for or lose.

"These people are just as capable to be out there," said  Bob Smith, commander of the Marion County reserves. "It isn't for everybody."

Smith joined the reserves in 1993. By day, he's a lieutenant with the Indianapolis Fire Department, where he's worked for 17 years.

Smith is the only member of the reserves to be paid a full-time wage.

The Indianapolis Metro Police Department has 88 reserves that last year alone saved the city about $723,000. The bill would top $1 million if those officers had to be paid overtime.

Five years ago, IMPD had 112 reserves. Volunteers have declined, but the department is hoping to increase that number.

Though the volunteers work for very little money, the departments cover the cost of the vehicles, gasoline, maintenance and uniforms.

Print this article Back to Top