After a long day of work, in telecommunications, construction, banking, retail sales, or food services, most of us think about going home, having a good dinner, and sitting back for an evening of television and family.
For 12 Burbank Police reserve officers, the week includes a regular job, and one or more shifts providing law enforcement services to the Burbank community.
The Burbank Police Department (BPD) has used volunteer reserve officers to augment regular officers in an effort to create a safer city since 1951. The reserve officer program has gone through many changes over the years, and today reserve officers, when on duty, have the same status and authority as regular officers.
Burbank N Beyond recently met with two Burbank reserve police officers, Lt. Ken Crossman and Reserve Officer Stephen Bellow to learn more about the BPD reserve officer program, and gain additional insight on their experiences as members of the reserve team.
Reserve Officer Bellow joined the BPD in 1980 as a regular officer, serving until 1988. While pursuing a new career in consumer electronics, Officer Bellow still had an urge to continue police work.
“I enjoyed the people and city. Honestly, I had a passion for police work, and enjoyed working in Burbank” said Bellow. Reluctant to give up the calling, Bellow became a reserve officer upon leaving the regular force, and has been with the BPD ever since.
Lt. Crossman had a different motivation for joining the reserves. Working in the automotive business, Lt. Crossman had a BPD Sergeant client who talked about being on the force, and the challenges of being a police officer. The Sergeant invited Crossman on a police ride-along, and Crossman was immediately hooked.
Not wishing to give up his career, Crossman still had a desire to find a way into the police business. An area native, Crossman explained, “For me it is a very selfish way to give back to the community. It is a vast departure from my normal job, and it is quite enjoyable.”
Reserve officers go through the same basic training as regular officers, and are required to maintain the same level of recurring training. Those standards are set by the State of California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), and are applicable to all reserve and regular officers practicing law enforcement in the state.
Both Officer Bellow and Lt. Crossman agree on the best type of recruit for the Burbank Police Reserve.
“Our preferred reserve candidate is someone who grew up in the town, and has deep ties to the community. Someone who is really not looking to change careers, but is looking for a way to give back to the community,” explained Lt. Crossman. “A former Army MP would be a great candidate, and other (military) guys coming back.“
“I’d take a military person over somebody who had never worked a real day in their life!” added Officer Bellow. “My first training officer was a Vietnam veteran, and he was a no-nonsense kind of guy. Great attention to detail. A lot of guys are coming back from war today, and those guys are very squared away.”
However Officer Bellow emphasized, “if a person wants to join the reserves and be a tough guy, they are not going to make it through the screening process. We don’t want or need them.”
“The chief also reaches out to retirees and offers the chance to continue on as a reserve” noted Lt. Crossman, “this allows the city and department to retain their experience.”
While there has been occasional controversy in the past between regular officers and reserves, this has not been the case in Burbank. Although he has been in the BPD reserves since 1988, Officer Bellow does not feel detached from the regular officers. “I feel just as part of the group (police) as the regular officers.” Officer Bellow continued ”There was a time in the mid-80s when regular officers did not see the reserves as equals. Over time that has changed.“
Lt. Crossman remembered that “there was a time the reserves were used almost exclusively as the second man in a patrol car.” Duties included taking notes, writing reports, and manning the radio. “That has changed, and now everybody works together. We still have to earn their respect (regular officers). Certainly as a reserve you need to be extra sharp. You learn real quick what the guys appreciate.”
On January 2, Los Angeles Sheriff Reserve Deputy Servin Lalezary stopped a minivan suspected of being used by an arsonist who had allegedly set more than 50 fires
during a 3 day period in and around Los Angeles, including 1 fire in Burbank.
Lalezary, 30, had only been assigned to duty on solo patrol for 3 days prior to the stop. He is an immigrant from Iran, USC graduate, and works as a lawyer in his regular career.
He, like Burbank Police Reserve Officers, works for $1 per year.
With a collective 55 years police experience, both reserves have a lot to offer the younger officers. Lt. Crossman believes this works two ways. “The younger guys do frequently look to us for advice, however let’s be clear – the younger guys are here doing it everyday (police work), “ noting that even old-timer reserves can still learn from the younger guys.
Officer Bellow added one of the best rewards he gets is when one of the “kids” comes up to him after a shift and tells him “I am glad you came out tonight. I like watching you work.”
While other departments around the United States have dealt with question on whether or not a reserve is putting a regular officer out of a job, that is not the case in Burbank. Burbank has a budget for police officers, and the reserves do not factor in that budget – at $1 per year, they are a true volunteer organization.
In a city of just over 100,000, Burbank has roughly 20 patrol units on duty at any time. The reserves put another car on the street, another plain clothes cop in the mall or public event, another traffic cop at a DUI checkpoint, without any impact on a regular officer’s ability to get hired or promoted.
In fact, while originally thought to be a Burbank urban legend, Lt. Crossman confirmed that he actually provided his own motorcycle early in his traffic career. While not used in actual patrol duty, Lt. Crossman did provide his own motorcycle for skills and qualification training, up to the point he became certified as a “motor” officer. This was at no cost to the city.
Since 1980, when Officer Bellow joined the BPD, many things have changed both in the police department and community.
“I was the only African-American on the force in 1980“ recalled Officer Bellow. “Burbank is now a much more socially diverse community, and there are a lot more things to do.”
Lt. Crossman reflected “As society has progressed, the relationship between the police and citizens is much better. If we go back 40 or 50 years, you wouldn’t question the actions of a police officer. That time is long gone.”
“Today people question the police, there is much more scrutiny, and that is OK. Now everybody, even every kid has a camera (mobile phone), and that is OK. Everybody, including the police, know the rules, and that helps everybody treat each other with more respect.”
Officer Bellow recalled that his father, a former Marine, had raised the family to respect police officers, and after more than 30 years in police work, he still believes that “you must treat people the same way you would treat your brother or sister.”
Lt. Crossman acknowledges that events such as the Rodney King beatings, while painful to watch, “brought an awareness to that you need to treat everybody with respect.”
Participating in the reserves provides other rewards to officers. Police officers deal with a wide variety of people, situations, and extreme conditions every time they go on patrol or hit the street. Officers must follow a strict code of ethics, procedures, and maintain professionalism and discipline at all times.
In addition, according to Officer Bellow, a cop needs to be a jack of all trades, skilled in interpersonal communications, first aid, psychology – and even be part auto mechanic. Not to mention an officer never really knows what awaits him at a traffic stop or police service call, requiring great courage and ability to make a quick assessment when approaching a potentially hostile or violent person.
“I’ve taken a lot that I have learned here (on the reserve force) and transferred it to my career” explained Lt. Crossman. “Being a cop gives you great leadership experience, and constant exposure to situations that are out of the ordinary.”
Both officers agreed that police experience gives them a distinct advantage in their regular careers, in particular helping their ability to communicate with people. “Good cops are able to communicate with anybody” assured Officer Bellow, which has helped him succeed in his consumer electronics career.
Finally, when asked what the people of Burbank should know about the Burbank Police Reserve Officers, Lt. Crossman and Officer Bellow agreed that the reserve corps is well-trained, very dedicated to protecting the residents of Burbank, and have a deep desire to serve the community.
Lt. Crossman concluded by assuring the residents of Burbank that “if you meet a reserve officer on a police call, you will never know the difference.”
The Burbank Police Reserves are recruiting new members. You can learn more about the reserve officer program at the Burbank Police Department website.