Specially trained, armed volunteers to bolster Chattanooga Police Department

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 8/17/16. The main lobby at the Chattanooga Police Services Center on Wednesday, August 17, 2016. The CPD will soon use reserve police officers in jobs like manning the front desk at the Amnicola Highway headquarters.

A small cadre of specially trained, armed volunteers soon will bolster the Chattanooga Police Department's ranks as police reinstate a long-dormant reserve officer program.

Police Chief Fred Fletcher plans to train at least six people as reserve officers in the first training academy, and he hopes to eventually have a reserve force of 30 or more volunteers.

Any reserve officers at the police department would comply with Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission standards, Fletcher said. The organization, which sets training standards for full-time law enforcement officers, also sets standards for reserve officers.

Reserve officers are required to go through at least 80 hours of training in their duties, must be U.S. citizens who are at least 18 years old and can't have felony convictions on their records. They also must keep their fingerprints on file with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, have passed physical and psychological exams and have "good moral character," according to state standards.

Fletcher said training for Chattanooga reserve officers will go beyond the minimum standards. He hopes the reserve officers will help build a better relationship between the community and police.

"My primary interest is to attract a group of folks who are not able to participate full time, but have the ability to further our vision - so to improve community outreach, the diversity of the department and the engagement and relationship building in the community."

He also expects the reserve officers will help staff special events in the city. Now, special events strain the department's manpower, he said.

"It's becoming burdensome to fight crime and work special events, whether they're planned or unplanned," he said.

City council members budgeted $20,000 to get the reserve officer program up and running in the next fiscal year. Although reserve officers will be volunteers, each officer will need to be equipped with a uniform, body armor, duty weapons and equipment, and those costs can run into the thousands for each officer.

Most of the purchases will be one-time and the equipment can be reused as reserve officers come and go, Fletcher said.

Eventually, he'd like to hire some reserve officers to work jobs that civilians now are handling in the department, like working the front desk in the Police Services Center on Amnicola Highway. He pictures filling those roles with reserve officers as current staff retire or quit.

"So they'll be doing double duty," he said. "Sworn, certified peace officers who are armed, but they'll be there to perform info center functions."

It's not unusual for law enforcement agencies to keep a staff of volunteer reserve officers. The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office now has 48 reserve deputies, including four deputies in mounted patrol and four tactical medical SWAT officers, said Matt Lea, spokesman at the sheriff's office.

The reserve officers work in traffic and also help the sheriff's office staff special events such as fairs and festivals. Reserve officers are different from the sheriff's posse - a group of civilians who don't have the authority to make arrests or carry guns -and also are different than special deputies, who do have the ability to make arrests and carry weapons, but don't go through the same level of training as reserve officers.

Reserve officers at the sheriff's office go through 131 hours of training, Lea said.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or [email protected] Follow @ShellyBradbury.