The case of Oklahoma reserve deputy Robert Bates, accused in the fatal shooting of a suspect during a sting operation, is prompting some police professionals to call for an end to volunteer policing. Police Chief Ray Johnson of the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield tells NPR, “Law enforcement is one of the few professions that allows people to play at the profession,” he says. In one town he didn’t identify, Johnson called reservists “loose cannons … they were not properly supervised. They were not properly trained. We had reserve officers who were business people in the community, but they would come in on a Saturday, the two of them, and patrol the streets.”
He adds that many reservists are serious and dedicated. “Because they’re doing it as an avocation, they have all the enthusiasm that other people do for some other hobby — but it is a hobby,” he says. Johnson says reservists are being reined in more, especially in metro areas like St Louis. He has a sideline as a reviewer of police departments for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, and he says the reserve programs now seem to be more common in small towns, where it can be hard for police to say no to influential citizens. The bigger departments that still use reservists have either restricted their powers or they’ve gone the other direction: giving them the same training as regular officers.