Hi-Line Living: Reserve officers protect and serve in Havre
Havre police, Northern working on starting local reserve officer training
February 21, 2020
A long-standing program at the Havre Police Department is the reserve officer program, a program in which volunteers in the community don the badge of a police officer and work to assist officers in their duties and keeping the community safe.
"We can never have too much help," Havre Police Department Senior Patrolman and School Resource Officer Jordan Chroniger said. "We are a smaller community, we are a smaller department and the demographics of the area can prove challenging at times."
Chroniger is also working to help reorganize the officer reserve program and make the program more effective for the community.
The Havre Police Department is also working with Montana State University-Northern to start a local reserve police academy to train volunteers as reserve officers.
Chroniger added that a reserve officer is technically a certified police officer, just not to the same level as a full-time police officer. Reserve officers are unpaid volunteers and go through a separate, shorter academy than full-time officers. He added that another big difference between reserve officers and full-time officers is that reserve officers cannot function independently and have to be supervised by a full-time officer.
The reserves act as kind of a backup for police officers, he said. He added that they cannot drive a patrol vehicle and tend to ride with a full-time officer, which is critical with a small department.
When an officer is responding to a call or is making a traffic stop, rather than the other patrolman on duty having to act as backup for the officer, a reserve is able to act as their additional eyes and ears and provide an extra set of hands if needed, Chroniger said. He added that this allows for more officers to patrol the area.
Reserve officers are allowed under state code to make arrests and are issued a badge and a gun similar to full-time officers, he said. He added that each department sets its own standards for what the requirements are for the reserve program, but according to code they all have to meet a specific set of criteria to be able to enlist in the reserve program.
People are required to pass the reserve academy, which is similar to the police academy although it is a shortened version, he said. Reserve officers also are required to have 88 hours of training and go through a background check. He added that the background check is very extensive and applicants cannot be felons.
Police Chief Gabe Matosich said the reserve program is critical to the department and is a valuable thing for the community. He added that it is a unique experience and allows people to see law enforcement from a different perspective.
"You get to see how law enforcement works, the criminal justice system works and, more importantly, you're contributing to the community," he said. "You know you're helping your community and helping protect the community."
He said the people who are involved with the reserve program see law enforcement from in a different light than full-time officers and also see it in a different light than other community members. Most of the people in the reserve program work a full-time job outside of the department and sacrifice their time and energy to volunteer. He added that in order to be a reserve officer, the department requires people to volunteer at least 10 hours a month, but when someone is working a full-time job and has a life outside of the department, it can be challenging.
Havre Police Department is willing to work with people and their schedules to allow them to volunteer, but when it comes down to it, volunteering is not a requirement.
"If you want to get involved and help your community and help with the police department and help with the public relations and be part of the community in that way, I guess that's what it's about," Matosich said.
Long-standing Reserve Officer Paul Schuschke also works part-time as a dispatcher for the Havre Police Department and as a registered nurse at Northern Montana Hospital.
He said he first became interested in volunteering for the reserve program after he started working as a dispatcher in 1996. He said that being around law enforcement he had the opportunity to see what they do and was fascinated by the work of a police officer.
But volunteering has always been something that was important to him, he said.
Schuschke said he grew up in Havre, graduating from Havre High School and Montana State University-Northern with an associate degree in nursing. He moved to North Dakota for a period of time and after he moved back he wanted, because of his medical background and his certification as an emergency medical technician, to volunteer for the Hill County Search and Rescue.
He said one of his friends from the Search and Rescue told him about a part-time position at the county dispatch and Schuschke applied and was hired on as a dispatcher.
"It was just fascinating to me," he said.
As a dispatcher he grew to have a strong respect for law enforcement and saw how they worked to help and protect the community, he said. He added that he also saw the police department was short on staff and wanted to be able to help.
He later enrolled in the reserve academy in Glendive, he said. He learned a lot of information at the reserve academy, with his favorite course learning about the legal side of law enforcement.
Police officers put their lives on the line every day, but that is just part of the life, he said. At times it can be worrisome, depending on the situation, but it's important to remember that it is all for the betterment of the community.
"You just feel good when you go home at night after you've done a shift that you've helped out in some way," Schuschke said. "... I guess that's pay enough."
He said that being in law enforcement also takes its toll.
"There are a lot of good people, and there is a lot of bad in Havre, too," he said. "The drug problem is huge."
He added that there is a large number of repeat offenders and a lot of crossover between law enforcement and the emergency room at the hospital. But the important thing is that if people do volunteer, they do not lose sight of the goal of why they are there - to help the community. The same goes for the time commitment to the department, he said.
"You have to have the want to do it, and if it's something that you truly want to do, you make time to do it," he said.
He added that law enforcement is very much like a second family. Everyone is very closely knit together and becomes very close to one another. He said he is happy with his career as a nurse, but added that if he was 20 years old again and was part of the reserves he would be interested in becoming a full-time police officer.
Schuschke said, with the many hours he has put in helping the police department and the community, he cannot pick any one thing about his time as a reserve or pick anything in particular about the life of being a reserve which he could confidently say was his favorite.
"I've just enjoyed it all," he said.
Chroniger said that the reserve officers are phenomenal and he would like to see the program grow and be strengthened in the future.
"It can help the community actually see law enforcement from somebody else's eyes that's not a full-time police officer," he said. "... We are trying to do good things for the community. It's not about arrests, it's trying to do good things, trying to keep the community safer."
Reserve Academy at Montana State
Chroniger said the city and Montana State University-Northern are also working together to try to establish a reserve academy in Havre on Northern's campus. He added that they are still working on the logistics for the program, but having it would be a great benefit to the entire region.
He said Matosich and the criminal justice instructor at Northern have been working together to put together a reserve program at the college. The program could be used for any departments, in the local area and across the state, to train reserve officers, he added.
Establishing a reserve program at Northern would be a good way to also get students who are interested in a career in law enforcement involved with the Havre Police Department and be a way to grow the program, Chroniger said. He added that he and a fellow officer are working to rebuild the reserve program within the department and having more reserve officers would allow them to meet many of their goals they have established.
Matosich said that Northern's criminal justice instructor has been great to work with and has in the past worked with the department with internships and other programs to get students involved in law enforcement.
He added that the state has two reserve academies, one in Glendive and one in Helena, and by Northern establishing a reserve program, it would attract new students to the university, and new reserves to the area.
"It's just been a pleasure working with Northern, making this happen," Matosich said.
He added that he is excited to see how much interest there is locally and across the state in the program.
"It's a great way to do the training," he said.
For the Havre Police Department, he said, he would like to see six to eight reserve officers. He added that at the moment the department has two and the more reserve officers the department has the better it is for everyone, with many hands making light work.
He said that he hopes having a reserve program locally will help generate more interest in the reserve program and help the police department reach its goal.
He added that the program should be ready by the end of this school year, but no specific date has been set for the launch of the program.