Anthony Bill: Volunteer Police Officers Banned
Use of volunteer law enforcement in police and sheriff’s departments would be prohibited in Michigan under the legislation, Anthony Bill, introduced by Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing).
Her HB 4874 bans the use of reserve or auxiliary officers, partners to licensed offices, and members of mounted and marine divisions.
There were approximately 3,000 unlicensed volunteers assisting law enforcement agencies statewide as of 2018, Anthony estimated in a press release. The bill defines a volunteer law enforcement officer as anyone who is a member of a law enforcement department but is not licensed under the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) Act.
“Our constituents should be able to trust that members of law enforcement have been licensed by the state and trained in industry standards, and quite frankly, without this legislation our residents and volunteer officers (are) put in dangerous situations,” Anthony said. “This is a practical reform that brings us one step closer to ensuring our laws are being enforced in a fair and just manner.”
Ingham County announced last year volunteer deputies will be inactive until MCOLES gives further direction on how they should be licensed or trained.
“Several other states have implemented some form of standards for reserve officers,” Anthony said.
But the idea doesn’t play well with many in the law enforcement community, who say reserve and auxiliary officers typically provide a police presence at parades and festivals and direct traffic afterward.
“How would Howell do Balloonfest without reserves? How does Brighton do Taste of Brighton and all the festivals they do downtown without reserve officers?” asked Livingston County Sheriff Mike MURPHY.
Robert STEVENSON, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police (MACP) and the former chief of the Livonia Police Department, said reserve officers perform supportive functions to full-time officers.
“They are trained. They go through an academy run by Schoolcraft College, so it is not like they don’t have the training,” Stevenson said. “They are not trained to the same standard that police officers are, yet we don’t expect them to do the jobs that police officers do.”
Reserve officers in Livonia perform crowd control at school functions, like basketball games or football games, and for traffic direction at fairs, he said.
“HB 4974 would be problematic for many local agencies, townships, and counties throughout the state by totally banning all volunteers. The reality is many communities rely on volunteers and they do a good job,” Stevenson said.
He noted that legislation passed in 2016 called on MCOLES to develop statewide training standards for reserve officers.
“I know that MCOLES has that on their list to do but MCOLES also has about half the staff they used to have. Everybody wants MCOLES to do everything, but they don’t see fit to fund MCOLES to the level that they need to be funded at to do everything that everybody wants them to do,” Stevenson said.
MCOLES is funded by a surcharge tacked on to traffic tickets by Public Act 302 of 1982, he explained. Traffic enforcement is down because there are about 3,000 fewer police officers on the road to write tickets. Local government budgets have been cut as a result of the Great Recession in 2008 and have not yet recovered.
Stevenson said MACP is supportive of the training for reserve officers, but the question is how much training is needed, how many hours will be required, and how it is going to be paid for.
Murphy, who is also the president of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association (MSA), said the organization has not yet taken a position on the bill. And his Livingston County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t have many reserve officers because of its size. But smaller departments need reserve officers.
“They have limited powers and in a well-run reserve program those officers or deputies… actually do have a police reserve academy, so there would be some training there. There would be some in-house training,” Murphy said.
He presumes Anthony’s bill is part of a wider call for police reform and more training. (“Senate Looks At Creating ‘Uniform Guidance’ For Police,” 5/27/21).
But he also noted that in the cases that have drawn national attention, none were reserve or part-time officers.
“Those are full-time cops that made some mistakes, and some of them even illegal,” Murphy said.
Why not just provide the training to reserve officers anyway?
“It is about $10,000 to put somebody through a school to be MCOLES certified,” Murphy explained. And MCOLES is going to add rules requiring that officers work a minimum number of hours each year to maintain their license on the grounds it is a “perishable skill.”
“If I’m Brighton city or some of the sheriff’s offices Up North and I bring some men and women in for, say, seasonal ORV enforcement, or seasonal marine enforcement, or seasonal festival enforcement, there is no way they are going to meet that threshold and you can’t send somebody to an MCOLES academy every two years,” Murphy said.