Skubick: Having the talk about standards for volunteer reserve police officers

"We don' t want an Oklahoma in Michigan."

With that, State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker is re-opening a can of worms over what standards should be imposed on volunteer reserve police officers. Statewide standards do not exist.

Earlier efforts faded into the legislative wood-work last year, but have taken on new urgency in the wake of that shooting in Oklahoma involving a 73-year-old reserve officer who claims he accidentally shot a black man after a traffic stop.

"I shot him. I'm sorry," you can hear Robert Bates on the video tape as the incident unfolded resulting in the death of Eric Harris.

There certainly are no Robert Bates running around with a gun in our state.

Or are there?

One recent story near Saginaw underscores why the state is sticking its nose into all this.

On a good day, if all the citizens show up, you'll find about 300 in the Village of Oakley. Turns out, at one time there were about 150 reserve officers, most from outside of the area, working for the chief. Many made contributions to the village leaving the appearance that it was "pay-to-play-policing."

Not guilty, the chief protested and a two year legal haggle involving the state attorney general's office was finally resolved when the village released all the officer's names, including an application from some guy called Kid Rock, whoever that is.

The A.G.'s office asserts the officers were "improperly appointed." Again, the chief pleaded not guilty in the court of public opinion.

He said the officers were trained and their gun skills were tested on a quarterly basis but did they go through an 11-week training academy which is the requirement in the Oakland County sheriff's shop?

GOP Senator Rick Jones, with 31 years under his belt as a sheriff, is concerned. "There is absolutely a problem. I don't want untrained people with a badge on the street. I saw many cases where that was a bad idea."

Apparently the folks over at M-Coles, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, are worried, too. They are cooperating with West Michigan Republican Ms. Schuitmaker on her bill which authorizes the agency to draft rules to button down the system before another Robert Gates shows up in the headlines here.

For one thing, the senator wants background checks on incoming reservists. Sounds pretty basic, but it's unclear if that is done around the state by every department.

But beyond that should there be a rule that bans reserved officers from making political contributions to the local department?

Should officers have to reside in the community where they work part time?

Should they have to take a test?

Should they receive sensitivity training?

All good questions, but because this bill has not passed no one is really sure what the final standards should be.

And a former state trooper and current state senator Mike Nofs  wonders if that is even needed. A self-described "local control" guy, the Battle Creek lawmaker has a sense that local law enforcement can take care of this perhaps without state intervention. He's open to debate Senate Bill 92, if it comes up for discussion, but clearly he is not hoping on the regulation band wagon just yet.

And then there is the governor. He has promised a special message on public safety. He has a secret work group of law enforcement types that has been meeting for several years on a variety of policing issues.   Just what ideas they are hatching for the governor to pop, remains as mysterious as their closed door deliberations.

Many will be watching to see if the reserve officer issue is addressed, and it will likely be news if it is not.
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