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How a huge reserve police force raises money for a small town

Mar 18, 2015

You might have seen reports about a small town, fewer than 300 people, with a force of 110 reserve police officers. How and why is this happening in Oakley, Michigan?

The reserve police force has funded new computer equipment and more for Oakley, Michigan.
Credit Ian Britton / Flickr

Oakley, Michigan, according to reporter Ryan Felton from Metro Times, is "a textbook definition of a small town.” 

In the past, the village has had one part-time police chief. Now that the Village of Oakley has hired Rob Reznick, however, it’s begun a reserve police force as a way to raise money.

“Basically you have a guy who saw an opportunity to fund his department by allowing people to apply as a reserve officer,” Felton said. “If they paid for their uniform, badge, and firearm, and passed a number of tests, they would be able to work as a volunteer cop, and that usually rounded out to about $1300 to cover the total cost as it was explained to me.”

And tens of thousands of dollars' worth of donations from reserve officers have poured into the city.

The people on the reserve police force of Oakley, Michigan, do not need to actually live in Oakley. They can live anywhere. In fact, 98% of people who have applied to be a reserve officer are from Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.

“It runs the gamut of wealthy professions,” Felton said. “Everyone from doctors, attorneys, you have a former Detroit Lions football player who now plays for the Miami Dolphins. I mean it’s an astounding, remarkable cadre of officers that he’s collected for his volunteer force.”

Once accepted, these reserve officers have police powers while in the presence of one of Oakley’s certified officers, as well as a special gun permit.

Oakley residents are “split right down the middle” on this issue, Felton said.

“The dynamic in the room during some of these meetings was just one of the most fascinating experiences to watch because it was just like watching this ugly family feud just play out wide in the open, because you’re not talking about people who are unfamiliar with each other,” he said.

“On one side of the room you have people who are very happy that Rob Reznick has brought in such a significant amount of money,” Felton said, adding that donations from the volunteers have brought in as much as the town spends in a year on general fund expenditures. 

“But, on the opposite end, you have people who feel like this has just created this sort of ‘pay to play’ atmosphere and Resnick is able to just do as he pleases,” he said.