When the Webster County Sheriff's Department and Fort Dodge Police Department need help in patrolling the streets or working security at an event, there's a group of officers they can call to lend a hand.
They are the members of the Webster County/Fort Dodge Reserve Unit.
The 16-member team, which includes Fort Dodge and Webster County residents with varying backgrounds, is available to both agencies and can help out in almost any situation as needed.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
John Garretson, left, and Richard Palmer, members of the Webster County/Fort Dodge Reservist Unit, stop to chat for a few minutes next to a Fort Dodge Police Department squad car. Any Fort Dodge/Webster County reservist can end up wearing either the police or sheriff’s department uniform, depending on where they are assigned.
John Garretson, the reserve unit's supervisor, said members are trained to respond to almost every type of call the officers and deputies would be asked to respond to.
"Under the Iowa Code, a reserve peace officer can do everything a full-time officer can do except for implied consent for OWIs," Garretson said. "We can go on patrol, we make arrests, we do traffic stops. We're able to do most everything that a full-time certified officer can do."
Both the city and county don't allow reserve deputies to go on the streets alone, instead partnering them up with an officer already on patrol.
WC/FD Reserve Unit Hours
From July 2012 to June 2013, members of the Webster County/Fort Dodge Reserve Unit spent 3,937.5 hours serving the community, including:
Ride-along/patrol: 2,091.25 hours
Community events: 1,325 hours
Training/administration: 420.5 hours
Meetings: 100.75 hours
Must be at least 21 years old and less than 65.
Must serve at least eight hours a month, with at least four in each department.
Must participate in seven community events a year.
Must pass criminal and driving background checks.
Must complete training at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy within 18 months of appointment.
Needs good judgment and reasoning abilities.
Garretson stressed that reserve officers can't take the place of regular officers.
"You can't reduce the number of certified officers just because you have a reserve program," he said. "We're here to enhance and supplement their abilities."
Garretson said in addition to helping out with patrol and law enforcement, reservists also help handle security at community events and make appearances at the Webster County Fair as well as in parades throughout the year.
"That way, we're not taking the full-time regular officers off the street," he said. "That's something reserves can provide the manpower for and keep the full-time guys on patrol."
From July 2012 to June 2013, Garretson said reservists spent almost 2,100 hours just on patrol duties for both departments.
All of that happens for a salary of $1 per year, according to Garretson.
Fort Dodge Police Chief Tim Carmody said that dollar shows that the reserves are dedicated to their jobs.
"On average, when you stop and look at that, both on an individual level and a group level, they provide a tremendous service that people really don't know about," he said.
While other police agencies have reserve units, what makes Webster County and Fort Dodge's unique is that it's a combined reserve unit between two agencies.
According to Garretson, the local unit is the only combined unit in the state.
"Everybody works together, whether it's a major crime scene in the city or something in the county, both departments are there to support each other," Garretson said. "As a group of reserve officers, we wanted to continue along those same lines."
Carmody said the decision to make the reserves available to both departments has been beneficial.
"We have this finite pool of people who want to help, and it makes more sense to allow them access back and forth so they can be used more efficiently," Carmody said. "It's another demonstration of how well we get along in public safety to the benefit to the community."
Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs agreed.
"The cooperation's there between the Police Department and Sheriff's Department and in between you have the reserves," Stubbs said. "So why wouldn't you evolve them into that same cooperation?"
Like full-time certified officers, Garretson said reservists also have to undergo training at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in Johnston.
"They have a reserve officer training program that everyone has to complete within 18 months of their appointment," he said. "It takes the academy that regular officers go through and condenses it into a smaller amount of time."
The Webster County/Fort Dodge Reserve Unit started in June 1982 under the Webster County Sheriff's Department. Known at the time as the Sheriff's Posse, the unit was named the state's reserve unit of the year in 1983.
In fact, Stubbs was one of the first members of the Sheriff's Posse. He joined the Webster County Sheriff's Department six years later.
He's not the only local law enforcement officer to get his start as a reservist. According to Garretson, several local law enforcement officers from various departments began their careers with the reserves. They include Sgt. Matt Lundberg and Officer Merdick Sorenson with the FDPD, Trooper Paul Gardner of the Iowa State Patrol, and Dayton Police Chief Nick Dunbar.
The current group of 16 reserve officers work in a wide variety of fields, and each of them brings their skills to their law enforcement work.
"We have people in the construction industry, truck drivers, correctional officers from the prison, security personnel from the hospital, Air Force, military members, people that are self-employed and people with IT (information technology) backgrounds," Garretson said. "They want to do something different and give back. This is our home."
Because they work alongside full-time officers, Carmody said people might not even realize who the reserves are.
"It really is one of the hidden gems that the community doesn't understand," he said. "The reserve unit provides tremendous value for both departments, our citizens, and those involved in the program."
Garretson said he became a reserve officer to help keep Fort Dodge and Webster County safe.
"I live in the community, I've been in the community all my life, and I wanted to see things change for the better," he said. "I wanted to do my own small part to get the bad guys off the streets and clean up the town and surrounding area."
He said while the community may not be able to distinguish between reserves and certified officers, their presence alone gives people a sense of security.
"They view us as officers and quality people with good heads on our shoulders," he said. "We look to present a positive image of both departments and the community."