The Nice attack, Patriotic citizens, and Reserve forces

Once again, France finds itself the victim of a terrorist attack.  Proving that terrorists can and will use any available means to achieve carnage, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel used a rental truck to kill 84 people on July 14th as they were celebrating Bastille Day.  Of the 84 victims, 10 were children.  A photo taken from the scene and shared widely around the world showed a doll laying next to a covered body.

France has responded by expanding its emergency declaration another three months (it was supposed to end later this month).  In addition, the French president has called upon “all patriotic citizens” to join the reserve forces.  France currently has 120,000 police and military members deployed around the country.  The reserves will add 12,000 to that number.

I personally find it interesting that the president is essentially calling for citizens to take responsibility for their security.  France’s gun laws prohibit the idea of citizens arming themselves for defense, but he’s essentially suggesting the same argument that pro-Second Amendment individuals make – there aren’t enough police (and military in their case, they don’t have Posse Comitatus) to adequately protect everyone, everywhere, everytime.  So let’s take a journey into the Good Idea Fairy’s cave for a bit.  Stick with me, it’s likely to get convoluted.  And yes, I realize that what I’m proposing below is a bit of pie-in-the-sky idealism – humor me.

Chesapeake Police Auxiliary
Chesapeake Police Auxiliary

Within the United States, if take a look at the tiers of our security system you have federal agencies at the national level (FBI, DEA, ATF, Border Patrol, HSI, etc), the National Guard (working under state control), state and local agencies, and the reserves and auxiliaries of the state and local agencies.  What I’m most concerned with is presence at the scene of an attack when the attack occurs.  As far as straight boots on the ground presence, we can pretty much discount the federal agencies.  Their mandate is primarily prevention via investigation, so they’re not likely to be walking a beat.  If you do happen to have a federal agent walking a beat in front of your house, you may want to consider lawyering up, or at least denying intent.

Now to the National Guard.  I see three issues with counting on the National Guard: first, no governor is going to call out (and pay for) the National Guard unless there is an incredibly specific threat.  Second, the National Guard can be federalized, meaning that at any given time, the National Guard might not even be physically present in their state.  There was actually a great deal of concern about this during the height of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as governors expressed their concern that their units were deployed and unavailable for disaster response.  Third, only very specific National Guard units are actually trained for anything resembling police action.  Can they be trained?  Absolutely.  Is anyone going to put in the effort given the other two issues?  I don’t know.

So now that we’ve eliminated two levels of security, we’re down to state and local agencies.  Once again we come to the same funding issue we had with the National Guard.  As we’ve seen in the last few weeks with cities responding to attacks on police by doubling up officers on calls, eventually you run out of overtime money or officers that can sustain the schedule.  Multiple police chiefs have been on the news alluding to this negative effect on their ability to respond.  And let’s be honest, for all the politicians’ talk about making their cities safer, hiring more police usually gets knocked down pretty quick when budgets get tight.  Please don’t take that as a knock on officers – they’re doing the best they can with what they have, but when cities still won’t issue carbines or level IV plates to their officers and force them to purchase their own, chances of a hiring spree are slim.  Realistically, without the ability to hire more officers, localities will be forced to rely on citizens to provide for their own security and assist in providing security for others.

Chesapeake Police Auxiliary
Chesapeake Police Auxiliary

So now we’re down to the reserves and auxiliaries of the police forces.  Right about now is when I’m going to get into the pie-in-the-sky stuff.  Reserves are much less expensive than regular officers.  They volunteer, meaning there is no recurring salary cost to the city or county.  They also don’t get the full medical coverage that regular officers get, so there’s more money saved.  Their inexpensiveness makes them ideal for working big events or just plussing up undermanned shifts.  In my mind, reserves are an underutilized asset to increase presence.

That’s not to say there aren’t possible issues.  First off, the quality of reserves varies widely from department to department.  Where I live, the reserve officers go through the same academy as the active officers, are required to work minimum hours each quarter, and are held to the same continuing education standards as regular officers.  On the other hand, you have small town sheriffs handing out badges to friends and donors.  That’s typically how someone gets shot.  Somewhere in the middle you have chiefs and sheriffs who allow highly qualified individuals (read “SOF guys with free time”) to work specialty details such as high-risk warrants.  Second, you have to get a really motivated person with free time who’s willing to give up making money to volunteer.  That’s not especially easy.  I’ve worked with volunteer disaster response and search and rescue organizations, and the roster is always longer than the roll call.  Third, there’s the issue of the gray areas.  What exactly happens to a reserve officer injured on the job?  Oftentimes he hasn’t paid into insurance, but I’ve seen promises of workman’s compensation.  How exactly does that work, and what are the limits to a claim?

So what could be done to make reserves a better option for departments?  Well, an obvious recruitment strategy is to offer benefits.  Not full pay, otherwise they’re no longer cheaper, but discounted health insurance could be a draw, especially as Affordable Care Act costs increase.  Departments could also offer a partial pay system, where officers are paid for any hours worked above the minimum, or paid in case of “emergency recall.”  Offering chances to work in specialty squads could also appeal to those looking for a challenge.  Chances to work detective, warrants, or even SWAT for deserving officers could make volunteers really want to put in the hours to gain the experience necessary to qualify.  Right now those opportunities vary widely between departments, even in the area I live in, with one department opening up all but two squads (Mounted and K-9), and the other only allowing patrol work (with both armed  single and accompanied patrols).

New York Naval Militia on patrol.
New York Naval Militia on patrol.

Now, since we’ve discussed recruiting, let’s talk about standards.  If you want this program to actually work, the reserve officers MUST be held to the same standards as regular officers, including initial academy, physical fitness, field training, and continuing education.  It ABSOLUTELY CANNOT become the fat old rich donor’s club.  Treat reserve officers like adults and not like children or specially entitled individuals, and I think the results might be surprising.

In the chaos that is my mind, this talk of standards leads me to one final option that we haven’t discussed at all as of yet – State Defense Forces (called by differing titles in the states that authorize them including Militia, Military Reserve, and State Guard).  Authorized in 1955 and currently governed by 32 USC 109, State Defense Forces (SDF) are essentially the reserves to the National Guard.  Members are subject to exclusively state jurisdiction (the governor), may only be called up within their own state, and may not be members of any military branch, reserve, or the National Guard.  As with police reserves, the rules governing SDFs vary widely state to state, as do training and standards.  Some states use SDFs as a backfill in professional roles (legal, medical, etc), and other states have actually established memorandum with federal agencies to augment active duty and National Guard forces.  Physical standards may or may not exist, and very few SDFs conduct weapons qualifications, at least from what I have found.  In Virginia, their primary role is to work disaster response

Virginia Defense Force
Virginia Defense Force

(communications, damage assessment, dispensing supplies) and light (unarmed) crowd control at scheduled events.

As with the police reserves, SDFs have a lot of potential, if their state actually wants to put the time and effort into training and using them.  Many SDFs do actually pay members when called to state active duty, so that is a draw.  Other recruitment programs could include discounted healthcare, or college loan payoffs and discounted tuition (the New York Naval Militia actually has a tuition assistance program in place).  Standards would have to be enforced.  SDFs have developed a reputation (probably unfairly, but not entirely unfounded) for being the place where retired service members go to relive the glory days.  There needs to be a real effort to recruit younger individuals with relevant skills – everything from IT to legal to medical to just a person who wants to get trained to help.  And there needs to be a real effort to develop useful qualifications and hold members accountable.  Maybe SDFs could even partner with community colleges and trade schools to train members in trade skills with free tuition in exchange for volunteer hours.

I still believe that the cornerstone of an effective national defense is a responsibly armed citizenry.  However, I also think there is a lot that state and local governments could be doing to effectively utilize the respnsibly armed citizenry within their jurisdictions to increase security without overwhelming their budgets.  Working with the populace instead of treating them like children that need to be monitored is in the best interest of both parties.

About the author

Joel is an 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

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