Controversy arises over police reserves

SALINEVILLE – Reserve officers with the Salineville Police Department who have been filling in for part-time officers have been getting paid. This arrangement, however, raised concerns from village Solicitor Andy Beech and Mayor Mary Smith, who advised that doing so may violate the village ordinance which designates reserve officers as unpaid volunteers.

The subject of police reserves came up Monday during Police Chief Andrew Straley’s regular report to council members. He asked Beech for clarification regarding the police reserve ordinance which council passed in February.

According to the ordinance, reserve officers act as sworn officers and have full powers of arrest but are not to receive any pay or benefits. Straley asked Beech if the three officers added to the force by the reserve ordinance can pick up hours when the department’s full-time officers call off.

“If our part-time guys can’t meet their 24 hours per week, I’d like to use one of them (reserves) rather than hiring another part-time officer,” said Straley.

Several council members said they had no problem with the practice so long as reserve officers were fulfilling their 8-hour per week reserve commitment as per the ordinance. Straley noted many reserve officers are going beyond expectations by donating as many five shifts per week, and providing much-needed police coverage at times when there was previously no officers on duty.

Appearing displeased by the news that reserve officers are filling in for part-timers, the mayor said council should consider hiring the reserve officers as part-time since they are being paid for filling in. Straley asked council consider redrafting the ordinance so reserve officers could be paid only when they are called in to cover a part-time officer’s shift.

“That’s every department I’ve ever seen with reserves,” said Straley. “That’s what the reserves are there for: to hold their commission and to fill if a parttime and full-time guy can’t do it.”

Smith responded that Straley should have specified that reserves be paid for filling in when the ordinance was originally drafted.

“How do you call them a volunteer and then pay them?” asked Beech.

Councilman John Higgins, who served as the police chief in Lisbon for many years, defended Straley’s decision to pay the reserves if they are called to cover a shift. He said he handled reserves in the same way during his years as chief in Lisbon.

Councilman Jim Wilson, who served as a police officer in Salineville in the 1970s and 1980s agreed that this is how reserves had been handled during his time as an officer.

Beech voiced concern that the line between volunteer part-time status may become blurred if the practice is allowed to continue.

“Originally I think the chief asked for a volunteer reserve police force and that’s what we provided,” said Beech, referring to the reserves’ ordinance. “But now you want to be able to make them come out and pay them-that starts to sound to me like a part-time police officer.

“I just have some concerns about throwing those two altogether and making all that come under one ordinance for one officer.”

Council determined the best way to address the problem would be to draft another ordinance allowing reserve officers to be paid $11 per hour only when they are called in to complete a part-time officer’s shift. Beech agreed draft a new ordinance to fit these specifications, and council voted to begin legislation on the ordinance.

“They (reserve officers) should be the first ones to be called to get the job to be paid,” said Councilwoman Nancy Needham.