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LAPD watchdog raises concerns over training and oversight of reserve officers

The independent watchdog tasked with overseeing the LAPD has raised concerns over how the department's reserve officers are trained and monitored, particularly older officers who may carry guns and work in the field, according to a report published Friday afternoon.

The report from Inspector General Alex Bustamante found that some reserve officers were not completing the 24 hours of training mandated every two years. Some, he wrote, hadn't done any of the training at all.

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The report found little centralized oversight of the Los Angeles Police Department's nearly 400 reserve officers, who are deployed at the discretion of the command staff at the divisions where they are assigned.

With no policies requiring periodic fitness tests or precluding older reserve officers from working in the field, Bustamante's report found, at least three reserves aged 70 or older were working patrol duties as of May. One officer was 70, another 74. The third was 80.

As of May, the report said, the LAPD had a total of 17 officers aged 70 or older who ranked among the two highest levels of reserves. Those reserves can be armed, uniformed and "perform the same functions as regular, full-time police officers," according to the LAPD's website.

The oldest reserve officer within that group, the inspector general's report said, was 91.

Bustamante recommended that the LAPD develop a policy addressing whether a reserve officer's age or physical ability should be considered when they are assigned to patrol or similar work. He also suggested the department maintain a database comparing the training of reserve officers to their assignments "for risk management purposes."

The Police Commission directed Bustamante to evaluate the LAPD's reserve officer program earlier this year after a 73-year-old reserve deputy in Oklahoma mistakenly shot and killed a man. The reserve deputy later said he thought he had grabbed a Taser but mistakenly fired his handgun.

The inspector general's report noted that none of the LAPD's reserve officers were involved in shootings or other major uses of force that were reviewed between January 2013 and March 2015. However, he said, about 40% of the 32 complaints against reserves that were adjudicated during that same time frame related to an officer's failure to pass necessary firearms qualifications.

The ages of the reserve officers who failed the tests were not included in the report.

Any LAPD officer — full-time or reserve — who has 30 or more years of law enforcement is required to pass a firearms test only once a year. Officers with less experience must do so more often.

Bustamante questioned whether an annual test was sufficient for experienced reserve officers, noting that 13 reserves aged 70 or older qualify for annual firearms tests.

Bustamante said the annual requirement for some reserve officers "may present a risk issue."

In response to the report, the LAPD's training division recommended that reserve officers be added to a computer program that tracks crimes and how officers are deployed. Such a move would, the report said, "ensure that commanding officers are monitoring, training and ensuring that reserve officers in their command are in compliance with department policy."

Officials also said the LAPD should create a policy requiring that armed reserve officers be assessed after they turn 60 to determine whether they are able to "perform the essential duties."

Capt. Jeff Bert, an LAPD spokesman, declined to comment on the report Friday, saying it would be premature to do so before it was presented to the Police Commission on Tuesday.

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The LAPD's reserve officers are volunteers who work alongside full-time officers in "every aspect of department operations," according to the LAPD's website. Like full-time officers, reserves must pass background checks and physical tests of their vision, hearing, strength and fitness when they are hired -- unless they have just retired as a full-time LAPD officer.

The LAPD's website called the department's reserves "perhaps the finest in the nation."

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news

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