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

Civilians Take Real Risks to Help Out Understaffed Police Force

LAPD reserve officers in training.

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

itoggle caption Mandalit del Barco, NPR
Former teen singing heartthrob Bobby Sherman, an LAPD reserve medic

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

itoggle caption 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."

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