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Reserves offer new challenge

It's Halloween, a weekend of make-believe. Did you ever pretend you were a hero conquering evil?

It's not too late to try your hand at real crime fighting even though you may be a teacher, doctor or homemaker. St. Petersburg Police Chief Darrell Stephens says his department is actively seeking Reserve/Auxiliary police. Experience isn't necessary.

The reserves bolster the department by increasing the number of officers on the streets. The current Reserve Squad of 18 men and women describe their work as exciting, rewarding and a commitment. Although their backgrounds vary, they unite to battle crime and put their lives on the line for a once-a-year paycheck of $1.30 per hour.

For an application and details, call Lt. Ron Hartz at 893-7808 or Sgt. Chuck Harmon at 893-7157.

Becoming a reservist is no easy task. The application and hiring process, including much of the training, is the same as for a full-time police position. Requirements include being a U.S. citizen between 19 and 49, having a high school diploma or GED, passing a physical and sight, agility and polygraph tests.

Who are these residents who have chosen police work as their community service?

Lt. Gail Allison is a homemaker and mother of three children, ages 6, 8 and 10. She squeezes in police duties between training horses and competing in thoroughbred racing.

Allison always wanted to be a police officer, even before women were readily accepted on a force. She said her parents encouraged her "to go after what she wanted in life" and supported her decision to get a criminology degree from Florida State University.

She was a full-time officer for eight years, working undercover and as a homicide and rape detective. She worked as an investigator in the state attorney's office and the U.S. attorney's office before choosing to stay home with her family.

While at home, though, she missed police work and joined the reserves in 1986. She said her most exciting moment as a reserve officer has been "when another female officer and I ran down an armed burglar at Tyrone Mall."

The job requires working 48 hours a quarter in sometimes dangerous community service. Allison's family is supportive. "I was full-time when we met so he knows it goes with my identity," she said of her husband. "The kids think it's neat, but when I put on my uniform they say, "Now be careful.' "

Buck Beckner, owner of Kawasaki of St. Petersburg, jokingly says, "I joined for the money." He became a reserve in 1977. The pay: 10 cents an hour.

Beckner served three years as captain and now is squad sergeant of the unit. "It really makes you feel good when you can put something back into the community," he said. Eager to see the squad expand, Beckner said "we're looking for some young blood."

A reserve officer's classification and authority depends on the amount of training completed and maintained. Reserve One completes 600 hours in the police academy and 14 weeks or four phases of intensive field training within a designated time _ the same training a police officer receives.

Sgt. Beckner said his most exciting moment as a reserve was "the day I graduated from the academy."

A Reserve One officer has full arrest authority, can ride alone and can be in charge at scenes.

A Reserve Two officer completed the academy and two field training phases; an Auxiliary officer completed the academy; and an Auxiliary cadet does administrative work.

Less than half the reserves live in St. Petersburg. They all meet the requirement of living within 60 miles of the city, however.

Larry Enos is an accountant at Florida Power and lives in the Tyrone area. He joined the force in 1974 as an interesting way to do community service.

Although Jim Dishman joined while living and working in St. Petersburg, he now commutes from Palm Harbor, where he's a broker-salesman with Re/Max Mutual.

He leads the reserves in service with 8,500 hours. Dishman admits a childhood fascination with James Bond stuff and joined in 1977 to satisfy it and serve the community. "It's not a social club and there are rigid requirements," he said.

Dishman has been captain, is state certified as a firearms instructor, and holds a National Rifle Association title for an event in the Florida Police Combat League.

His most exciting reserve moments include "drug raids with vice and narcotics, and working 1{ years with the Eagle 1 and 2 helicopters."

Captain Jerry Meinhardt of Olympia Computer Systems joined the reserves after a 22-year career as a police officer. He said they want to triple the unit size and interested residents can arrange to attend a monthly meeting by calling Sgt. Harmon at 893-7157.

"Although it's rewarding to find lost children and help the elderly locate their cars in a mall parking lot, I'd be lying if I didn't say it's also exciting and gives me an adrenaline rush," Meinhardt said. "Some guys jump out of airplanes for that rush. I get it by chasing the bad guys."

Have a safe and happy Halloween, neighbors!