Report From the U.K.: Reserve Law Enforcement in the U.S. and Canada

“The police are the people and the people are the police.” — Sir Robert Peel, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1834-1835 and 1841-1846)

“My visit was very much a two-way process.” — Gavin McKinnon, Chief Officer, Special Constabulary of the Kent Police, U.K.

In September 2014, Gavin McKinnon journeyed from Kent, England, to visit the Los Angeles Police Department, to learn about LAPD’s Reserve Corps. The visit was part of a five-week Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to research current good practice in reserve and auxiliary programs in the United States and Canada.

Chief Officer McKinnon heads the Special Constabulary of the Kent Police. Kent is a county in South East England. The English Channel and the Straits of Dover are to the south; the mighty North Sea is to the north. France lies 21 miles across the Strait. The special constables are the reserve/auxiliary officers on the Kent Police Department. It is a force of 300 officers, providing over 100,000 hours of service per year. This figure is up from 68,000 in 2013 and 54,000 in 2012.

Chief McKinnon toured seven agencies: the Los Angeles Police Department, Dallas Police Department, Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., Edison Police Department in New Jersey, New York Police Department, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Toronto Police Department.

“The nomenclature is different from place to place,” his report begins. “Specials, auxiliaries, reserves. The motivation is the same however: to play an active role in their community by supporting the salaried police force and engaging with the community they serve.” Interestingly, he notes, such programs are “only really a feature of law enforcement in the U.K. and North America, with some limited examples in Germany and the Netherlands. It is not a concept familiar in many cultures. Considerable pockets of best practice exist across the Atlantic, and it is that I wanted to explore further in my fellowship.”

In Los Angeles, he found the tiered approach as a best practice. “Reserve officers receive the same training content as full-time officers and work alongside them in every aspect of Department operations … [The Reserve Corps] is structured on a tiered system, consisting of three levels of service with varying training commitments and a corresponding ability to work more or less independently.

“This system means that those people who wish to focus on community engagement and assisting the police in work that is low-risk and nonconfrontational can do so and still be an important part of the team. The system also provides flexibility for officers who no longer prefer to work patrol or other enforcement assignments.”

He also found the Los Angeles Police Reserve Foundation to be a great asset: “What they do on behalf of volunteer officers is both pioneering and inspirational.” He said severalof the agencies he visited have “a strong desire to emulate it in their own jurisdiction.” (For example, the Dallas Police Reserve Foundation was recently established.)

McKinnon considered a lack of rank structure as a disadvantage in the LAPD, particularly pointing out the lack of a single-designated lead. He goes into more detail on the matter, as he wrote about the leadership he found in the auxiliary unit in the township of Edison, New Jersey.

The Rotator asked him what other impressions he had of the LAPD program. He said: “I thought the commitment and dedication of the LAPD reserve officers really shone through. They are a credit to Los Angeles and to policing worldwide.” He revealed that he had attended an orientation evening: “Reserve Officer Ken Wong didn’t know I was in the audience, and he did a really passionate sell on what being a reservist means.” McKinnon saw that same passion when he attended the September training day at Davis.

“I really liked the balance that the tiered system brought — by allowing a wider group of people to participate, you are increasing the bond between the community and the LAPD, and that is priceless. In Kent, I have implemented my findings, including introducing a tiered system.”

Chief McKinnon also had particular praise for the Dallas Police Department’s Reserve Battalion (DPRB), calling it an “extremely well-run, competent and confident volunteer unit” of just under 100 officers. “There are reservists flying helicopters, in the heavily armed SWAT team, in dignitary close protection, working as detectives, and in virtually every other area of police work.

“The DPRB is led by the battalion reserve commander, Richard K. Andersen. He holds the rank of assistant chief of police, and has exactly the same standing and authority as assistant chiefs in the salaried force.” The battalion also has a director on the board of the Dallas Police Association.

The Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Police Department has 85 reserve officers, and they are unusual for a reserve unit in the eastern part of the United States in that they are armed. Most police agencies in the East use the term auxiliary instead of reserve, and they are primarily in support positions and do not engage in direct operational policing.

This west-east comparison was also discussed by Martin Alan Greenberg in his 2005 book, Citizens Defending America. As The Rotator reported in its Fall 2009 issue, “Greenberg describes how reserve law enforcement units, especially in the western states, have evolved over the years, and how they differ substantially from the ‘auxiliary police’ concept one finds primarily on the East Coast. Reserve units are ‘under statutory provisions’ and are held to a level of training and professionalism similar, if not identical, to that of full-time positions.”

The reserves in Washington, D.C., have implemented the Reserve Corps Focused Initiative (RCFU), operating all-reserve, independent crime suppression forces in high-priority areas, rotating Friday and Saturday evenings.

The big beast of volunteer policing in North America, as McKinnon describes it, is NYPD’s auxiliary program, with 4,236 officers. They are unarmed, have a power of arrest, but carry no enforcement powers. Their badge is a seven-pointed star rather than a shield. Their vehicles read “Auxiliary.” They carry a straight wooden
baton for self-defense, and carry handcuffs which allow them to detain offenders if need be.

McKinnon was struck by the ethnic diversity and the age range of the NYPD program: “They are very representative of the community they serve, something the regular force has strived for but not met.” In December 2014, after New York Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos were ambushed and killed, the NYPD
temporarily pulled all of its auxiliaries off the streets.

In the United Kingdom, police officers are generally retired completely from policing by the age of 50. The number of special constables aged 65 and older “could be counted on one hand.” This was a big part of the reason the LAPD’s tiered system was considered a best practice.

McKinnon spent a week in Canada, studying two of its larger reserve units, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Toronto Police Service.

The RCMP is a national service and has 2,000 auxiliaries and 220 paid reserves, and operates in a “rather complex federal/provincial split, which means that each jurisdiction within Canada” is administered differently. “In some provinces, they are sworn in as peace officers, in others they are not. They do not carry firearms anywhere, but are trained in them in case they have to use the weapon of a regular colleague.”

The Toronto Police Service has 340 officers, servicing the most populous city in Canada. McKinnon found the agency “unquestionably the best relationship I have seen between the auxiliary chief and his team and the regular police.” This was not the norm elsewhere, he said. He found reserve coordinators were often placed in the position because of medical conditions or other light-duty status, or even as a punishment: “Departments that do not take these roles seriously … are risking the success of their volunteer programs.”

The Edison, New Jersey, Auxiliary Unit is small (40 officers total), “well-run,” and “what it achieves for the community … is exceptional.” McKinnon attributes the effectiveness of the unit to strong leadership. They have a chief and deputy chief, both of whom are auxiliary officers.

“Units without a single-designed lead who is also a volunteer themselves had far greater problems in surfacing the concerns of volunteer officers,” he said. “Without a focal point, [officers] found it pointless to even consider raising issues with their departments. This inevitably causes grievances to build.”

McKinnon told The Rotator: “One of the key bits about reserve ranks is the pastoral care and team leadership they bring. In Kent, for example, we have doubled the hours volunteered in two years with fewer officers — it is worth $8 million dollars or so, instead of the $4 million it was. Who can afford not to do that in this day and age?”

From his final report, he presented the following recommendations to the special constabularies:

• Have a strategy in place to attract retiring (full-time) officers to join the program
• Seek to negotiate representation on local and national associations and unions
• Introduce a tiered approach (like LAPD)
• Establish a broad-based charitable foundation to assist them in honoring their officers and helping fund their work
• Periodically run their own dedicated operations in support of the priorities of the full-time force
• Have a designated chief who is also a volunteer
• Specifically target older people up to and over retirement age to serve in their ranks
• At the national level, have a dedicated lead for best practice and guidance
• Seek to put some of the best officers into roles as coordinators

“Finally, a small confession to the LAPD reserve officers,” Chief McKinnon wrote in his report. At the training day, he went through FOS. “[The officers] were taken back by my marksmanship as a member of an unarmed volunteer English police unit. I actually carried a handgun on and off duty for 21 years with the police and army in North Ireland, but chose not to mention it to avoid spoiling my fun for the day!”

The fellowship report by Gavin McKinnon is posted at

You can also read more about Kent Special Constabulary in their annual report at