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L.A.'s Reserve Officers, On the Front Lines

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L.A.'s Reserve Officers, On the Front Lines

L.A.'s Reserve Officers, On the Front Lines

Civilians Take Real Risks to Help Out Understaffed Police Force

L.A.'s Reserve Officers, On the Front Lines

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1921650/1921776" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

LAPD reserve officers in training. Mandalit del Barco, NPR hide caption

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Mandalit del Barco, NPR

Former teen singing heartthrob Bobby Sherman works as a part-time medic for the LAPD reserves. "It was a way to give back something to to the community," he says. "It's a labor of love -- I mean, I really enjoy myself." Mandalit del Barco, NPR hide caption

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Mandalit del Barco, NPR

The Los Angeles police force is notoriously understaffed — compared to New York City, it has half the number of cops per resident. So the LAPD is increasingly turning to a corps of middle-aged men and women, who essentially volunteer for duty.

Unlike reservists in other cities, being a reservist in Los Angeles is "full duty," with uniforms, guns and confrontations with bad guys. NPR's Mandalit del Barco recently spent a day with reservists at the Los Angeles Police Academy as they trained to keep their policing skills sharp.

Just like full-time cops, the city's reserve officers are required to go through at least 1,000 hours of training, which they do after work and on weekends. But unlike the 9,000 full-time LAPD cops, whose salaries begin at $50,000 a year, the reservists get a $50 monthly stipend.

That $50 barely covers the cost of dry-cleaning a reservist uniform — not to mention the bullets, flashlights and even motorcycles the reserve officers have to supply themselves. So why do it?

"Cops take off to play golf — I take off to play cop," says 61-year-old Howard Eckerling, an attorney who's been a reserve officer for 19 years. "There are not enough police officers in L.A. now, and there never will be."