HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY — They give of their time without pay but say they gain more than they give.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Deputies must pass the same physical, psychological and mental tests as full-time paid deputies. They have the same duties; carry the same weapons; and can arrest suspects — under supervision of their direct supervisor or of the Office itself.
It’s a tough job and qualifying for it is tougher.
Still, there are those who say the rewards are plenty, and they’re looking for more volunteers to join their ranks.
“It’s definitely not easy. The badge is one of the hardest things to earn and one of the easiest things to lose,” said Reserve Cpl. Chris Lewis, a training and recruiting coordinator who has been a reserve deputy since June 2010.
At 50, Lewis, who moved to this area in 1995, is the owner of a local restaurant and a certified high school coach. He can still do all this while volunteering as a deputy because the reserve deputy position is not full time. Most do work a lot more than the required 20 hours a month though, some as many as 90 hours.
But why do they want to do the job without pay?
All four reserve deputies interviewed are in different stages of life. Although they all had specific reasons (which will be explained later in this story) for volunteering, two common threads were “giving back to their communities” and “learning how to take charge in emergency situations when needed.”
Their stories all differ as much as the deputies differ themselves.
William Dauber retired from 26 years selling printing presses for a company in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had no law enforcement training before applying to the sheriff’s office.
“I was inspired to do it after 9-11, when President Bush said people should volunteer,” he said.
He went through the training at 66, passing all the same physical endurance tests as younger paid deputies.
Now 67, Dauber said he plans to do the job as long as he is physically able. Because there’s a test each year, he won’t have to guess how long that will be.
At 58, Keven Yarbrough has been at the job five years. A 15-year Army veteran, he holds a government position when not in his sheriff’s uniform.
Keven called his volunteer position an opportunity to give back to his community.
“I want to be an example to inner city youth,” he said. He wants to show them deputies aren’t something to be feared, and get them used to being around him like in the old days where residents were befriended by the “cop on the beat.”
Alexandra Argote (called Alex) went through the Academy and was sworn in with Lewis in 2010. Both her parents were in law enforcement and she said she wanted to “test the waters” before jumping in herself.
“I went through the Academy at 19,” she said. Not only was she the youngest in her class, she was also the only woman.
Argote is a student at St. Leo University who wants to go into law enforcement as a career. She said she figured there was no better way to gain experience than volunteering her time.
“This way I know what it’s about,” she said.
Recently a passenger in a car that had an accident on Interstate 4, Argote said her training at the Academy made all the difference at the scene.
“We were on the way to the airport for vacation and were merging onto the Interstate. When the others were getting frantic, really upset, I was able to take control of the situation and keep them calm,” she said.
Despite the fact she took the course at the Academy, when it comes time to become a full-time paid deputy, she’ll have to take it over again.
“The training is tough,” Lewis said. Going over the steps, which are also listed in detail at www.hcso.tampa.fl.us/Careers/SubPages/Career-Opportunities/Reserve-Deputy.aspx, Lewis said the first thing persons more than 19 years old who would like to see about volunteering must do is call 813-247-8000 and ask for Recruiting.
Following that, the steps are attending an orientation; a physical abilities assessment test consisting of 25 sit ups and 20 push-ups in one minute (each); a one-and-a-half mile run in 16 minutes; a 14-inch vertical jump; and a 300-yard run in 69 seconds.
If that can be accomplished, other steps — not always in this exact order — will be taken. An initial interview will be done with a recruiter; a detailed application will be filled out; a detective will do what they call “an integrity interview,” and a thorough background check done. Then two polygraphs, followed by two written psychological exams, will be administered before the candidate is interviewed by a psychiatrist who will be asking questions based on the exam answers.
“It’s very difficult to get people to meet the requirements,” Lewis said. “Many never get past the initial interview.”
But the reserve program currently saves the taxpayers more than a million dollars a year in manpower with its 97 reserves and has been in existence for more than 40 years. The department wishes it had at least 100 more.
No prior law enforcement training or experience is required to apply.
But why would people want to do the job without any financial rewards?
Yarbrough said a person has to be driven by the desire to serve others. “It takes people who are looking for a solution, not someone to blame, for the things that go on around them.”
Dauber explained it is the same type of first-responder mentality that makes a firefighter, EMT, nurse or doctor. “When there’s gunfire, civilians run from it. We run towards it,” he said.
“It’s a brotherhood,” said Lewis. “You’re part of something bigger than yourself.”
Argote said she enjoys the camaraderie. That it’s like having brothers and sisters. “It’s a real family,” she said. “We’re always there for each other.”
Reserve deputies train for approximately six months in the evening from 6-10 p.m. and all day Saturday. That way they keep their regular jobs and can still be of service.
To find out more, call the number given earlier in the story or log onto the sheriff’s website.