On a warm Wednesday afternoon last summer, Bill Rasmussen, 56, left his office at Rasmussen Screw Products Inc., in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Instead of heading for the Los Coyotes Country Club, he started the 30-mile drive west toward one of the seedier parts of Los Angeles County.
When he reached the Sheriff's Department's Lennox Substation, he changed from his office clothes to the special green slacks and tan shirt of a deputy sheriff, a.38 caliber revolver, extra ammo, handcuffs, and baton on his belt. At 3 p.m., after the watch commander's briefing, Rasmussen and his partner, Deputy Mike Smith, were ready to ride their black and white patrol car -- Car 34. As Smith loaded his gear into the car, Rasmussen pulled the 12-gauge shotgun from its rack, checked to be certain it was in proper working condition, and slid four shells into the magazine. For the next eight hours, Bill Rasmussen, company president, would become Deputy Rasmussen.
Across the country, in dozens of cities and municipalities, men and women like Rasmussen serve as volunteer police officers and deputy sheriffs. They are trained and armed, and they take the same risks as full-time peace officers. They ride street patrol alongside the regulars. But they receive no pay and little, if any, recognition. According to Otto M. Vehle, director of the Reserve Law Officers Association of America, based in San Antonio, Tex., there are some 350,000 reservists currently serving local communities.
Mickey Dunlap is owner of a photography business in Glendale, Calif. Like Rasmussen, he by no means rides as a deputy for lack of other things to do. He's on the board of directors of a San Diego company, is active in the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, is on the county Probation Committee, and is a member of the board of trustees of a school of photography.
Dunlap, one of 780 members of the uniformed reserve patrol force in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, says, "There's a crying need for patrol officers on the streets. I can't think of a better way of serving the community than giving eight hours a week." He adds, "The work is a complete change. I need a little excitement and even danger in my life. I love it."
Throughout the country, as municipal budgets are increasingly unable to provide enough paid law officers on the streets, the number of volunteers grows. The Reserve Law Officers Association lists Cicero, Ill., Dallas, Memphis, Columbus, Oakland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Albuquerque, New Orleans, Orlando, St. Louis, and Fort Lauderdale as some of the major U.S. cities with well-trained and well-organized volunteer forces.
"The demand for professionalism among regular police departments has spilled over to the reserves," says Vehle. Many volunteer units require candidates to take the same training given full-time paid officers.To accommodate men and women who work, training is usually given on weekends and at night.
Some police unions oppose the use of nonpaid volunteers because they may reduce pressure on local government to hire more full-time officers. But professional police officers are usually more than happy to have reservists ride as their partners, particularly if the alternative is to take to the street alone at night in a tough neighborhood.
When the reservist slides into the front seat of a police patrol car, he is, for those eight hours, a lawman -- not a company president, plant manager, or comptroller. "When your're on the street in a black and white, you have to concentrate on what you're doing," says David Smith, partner with his brother in the Tempo Lamp Co. of Gardena, Calif. "You have to forget family problems, forget money problems, forget business problems... everything. Your life and the life of your partner might depend on your being alert."
All the same, Smith says there are times when he's running down a dark alley with a gun in his hand, chasing some suspects, that, for a second, he asks himself, "Just what the hell am I doing here?"
If you're interested in serving as a volunteer police officer of deputy sheriff, contact your local law enforcement agency or write the Reserve Law Officers Association of America, P.O. Box 17807, San Antonio, TX 78217 for information and application forms.