Training Adequate For Reserve Deputies In Oklahoma?
OKLAHOMA CITY - Thousands of uniformed officers and deputies volunteer to serve and protect us. They are called reserve deputies and in Oklahoma, there are more than 3,500 of them.
Around 165 of them serve in Oklahoma County. But in the wake of an accidental killing by a reserve deputy earlier this year, News 9 wanted to find out if the training required is sufficient.
Bill Sharpe spent years on the street as a paid Oklahoma City police officer. Now retired, he volunteers his time as a reserve deputy, one of 165 currently serving Oklahoma County.
"There's a reserve on duty some place in Oklahoma County today," he said. "In our job, we complement the sheriff's department."
Once trained, reserve deputies can choose where they want to serve; guarding hospitals and jails, patrolling events, joining the bike or dive teams, or serving at the courthouse on the bomb squad. Sharpe works patrol.
"We're out looking for seat belt violations, tag violations just about anything that would make a vehicle unsafe," he said.
Knowing in the back of his mind, even a simple traffic violation could go haywire.
"Being in law enforcement you never know what you're going to come up against," Lt. Melissa Abernathy said.
Abernathy is over the reserve program for the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office and makes sure her deputies are ready to serve and protect.
"I think training is a must and we do a lot of it," she said.
Each reserve deputy goes through about 280 hours of training, and must qualify at the gun range. Once complete, they get their assignments. It's rare a deputy, reserve or paid, is forced to pull their gun but it does happen.
In April 2015, while undercover, Tulsa County reserve deputy Robert Bates shot and killed Eric Harris when he mistakenly thought his Taser was his gun.
Months later, an audit revealed Bates was among the 80 percent of Tulsa County reserve deputies who were not in compliance with training requirements. In Oklahoma County all 163 reserve deputies were compliant in 2014.
"I think it could happen to a full time deputy as easily as it could have a reserve deputy put into that stress and under those conditions," Sharpe said.
But after the Tulsa incident, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel reviewed his procedures.
"They made sure everybody's non-lethal weapon was not the same color as their lethal weapon," Sharpe said.
Procedures set while keeping safety top of mind, no matter where their assignments take them.
"We all have gifts, this is how I choose to volunteer back to the community and I can't imagine doing anything else," Sharpe said.
Each reserve deputy has to complete additional training and qualify with their handguns each year. If they work patrol, like Sharpe, they have to complete a 40-hour training academy.