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L.A.'s Reserve Officers, On the Front Lines

LAPD reserve officers in training.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR /
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LAPD reserve officers in training.
Former teen singing heartthrob Bobby Sherman works as a part-time medic for the LAPD reserves. "It was a way to give back something to to the community," he says. "It's a labor of love -- I mean, I  really enjoy myself."
Mandalit del Barco, NPR /
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Former teen singing heartthrob Bobby Sherman works as a part-time medic for the LAPD reserves. "It was a way to give back something to to the community," he says. "It's a labor of love -- I mean, I really enjoy myself."

The Los Angeles police force is notoriously understaffed -- compared to New York City, it has half the number of cops per resident. So the LAPD is increasingly turning to a corps of middle-aged men and women, who essentially volunteer for duty.

Unlike reservists in other cities, being a reservist in Los Angeles is "full duty," with uniforms, guns and confrontations with bad guys. NPR's Mandalit del Barco recently spent a day with reservists at the Los Angeles Police Academy as they trained to keep their policing skills sharp.

Just like full-time cops, the city's reserve officers are required to go through at least 1,000 hours of training, which they do after work and on weekends. But unlike the 9,000 full-time LAPD cops, whose salaries begin at $50,000 a year, the reservists get a $50 monthly stipend.

That $50 barely covers the cost of dry-cleaning a reservist uniform -- not to mention the bullets, flashlights and even motorcycles the reserve officers have to supply themselves. So why do it?

"Cops take off to play golf -- I take off to play cop," says 61-year-old Howard Eckerling, an attorney who's been a reserve officer for 19 years. "There are not enough police officers in L.A. now, and there never will be."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.