During a sting operation to stop the illegal sale of guns, Robert Bates, a deputy sheriff, mistook his gun for a taser and killed the suspect, Eric Harris, and is now being charged with second degree manslaughter. According to published reports, the supervisors at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office were then allegedly ordered to falsify Bates’ training records to give him credit for field training and firearms certifications that he never actually received. It is this specialized training that designates a standard volunteer as an “advanced reserve” giving them the same rights and privileges of a full time deputy of the Sheriff’s department. Part of these privileges include the ability to wear a badge and carry a gun.
In order to be considered as part of the Tulsa “advanced reserve” a volunteer deputy must undergo a minimum of 320 hours of training with the Council on Law Enforcement Education as well as 48 hours of field training with the TCSO. Bates, a 73 year old insurance executive, volunteered his free time at the Tulsa County Sheriffs Office, and was called a “valued member of the advance reserve” despite not having the training and qualifications to be a member.
Given the recent controversies in Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland and South Carolina, this incident has again raised even more questions about gun laws and how they’re enforced in all states. Maryland’s gun laws are facing possible change this October.
The Use of Reserves
The practice of the police force deputizing civilians isn’t uncommon. Volunteer Deputies are often used to help bolster numbers, especially during large events like county fairs. These reservists undergo some measure of training and are typically used to help keep crowds under control or for bolstering presence where the police don’t have the resources to do so themselves.
These deputies are also used in some cases to help as backup for legitimate full-time law enforcement officers. While not necessarily having the specialized training that a police officer must undergo, the presence of another uniformed law enforcement agent can often serve as deterrent from violence, such as in cases of domestic disputes.
The Scrutiny of Law Enforcement
With more incidents involving the use of lethal force popping up around the country, law enforcement agencies are coming under closer scrutiny. This includes reserve programs which now, especially with the reports of Bate’s records being falsified, are under the microscope as to whether or not their effectiveness outweighs the potential for fatal accidents as in this case. While the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office conducts an internal investigation as to the validity of Bates’ training records, many eyes with be turned towards the courts and how they will view the case.
Whatever the result, it will undoubtedly add more fuel to the controversy of gun laws and be a hot topic as individual states, including Maryland, review their gun laws for possible modifications.