Volunteer cops provide vital staffing to Sheriff's Office
By nearly all accounts, Greg Brody is a cop.
He carries a gun, wears a badge, and dons a full deputy uniform during his patrol shift. He may even conduct traffic stops and issue citations if needed, but Brody isn't being paid.
He's one of three active reserve deputies with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
Reserve deputies help out the Sheriff's Office on a regular basis, assisting with law enforcement tasks as needed, but they are volunteers, not state-certified police officers.
"I do this because I enjoy it," Brody says.
The 49-year-old Clatskanie resident has been volunteering as a reserve deputy for the past 26 years. He's spent a dozen of them helping out CCSO.
"It's noble," Brody says. "I wouldn't want to do it full time."
Brody is a paramedic with Columbia River Fire and Rescue. He says he took an interest in the program decades ago, when he found himself responding to emergency calls alongside law enforcement.
"I found myself very curious as to what their job was all about," Brody says of deputies. "I had some friends who were pursuing careers in law enforcement and talked to them and they said, 'Why don't you apply for this reserves program?'"
Not all reserves have full-time careers like Brody.
Some apply for the volunteer program in pursuit of a career in law enforcement.
Regardless of the motivation, all reserve deputies must first attend a reserve academy with training and testing, and pass a background check through the local sheriff's office where they're applying.
It's a rigorous process to get into a program that doesn't pay.
Despite the commitment asked of reserves, the program is about to get more stringent. The Sheriff's Office is in the process of revamping the program to ask even more of its volunteers, including psychological and medical tests.
"We're gonna make it a little more difficult to actually be a reserve," Sheriff Jeff Dickerson says. "We know that we want more academy hours than we have accepted in the past, as well as a more thorough process for training volunteer reserves in the field."
Dickerson says some of the changes will help bring the program more in line with the standards of the Department of Safety Standards and Training, the state agency responsible for certifying and conducting background checks of regular, full-time sworn law enforcement officers.
Volunteers fill staffing gaps
In Columbia County, reserve deputies play a significant role in augmenting law enforcement.
"Our Enforcement Division takes more calls per deputy than any other law enforcement agency in the county ... in areas that are often difficult to get to," Dickerson says. "Qualified reserves who help us by reducing the employees we need to sit on crime scenes, or help us shut down roads for police actions, or provide additional uniformed presence in handling crowds or other special functions take the pressure off of our regular deputies to be in more than one place at once."
Reserve deputies have also been used to help staff the county jail.
The sheriff says he's careful to try to weed out those who apply for the program purely out of a desire to exercise authority over others.
"We just don't need cowboys," Dickerson says, noting reserves rarely go out on patrol alone, unless they have substantial experience.