There are many faces to police departments beyond the officers and administrators. You have likely seen another important group of people at an accident scene or in a parade. These are the reserve officers and they volunteer their time to make officers’ jobs a little easier.
Alex Bates recently retired after 21 years of working as a reserve officer for the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.
He directed traffic at accident or crime scenes so the public would not interfere with an investigation. He helped search for lost children. He assisted the water patrol and the ATV enforcement units. He visited with many people at civic events such as the Anoka County Fair and various community festivals. He filled out tow sheets while officers were busy dealing with a drunk driver. He was an extra set of eyes while patrolling the streets.
“There’s such a satisfaction of this because you have an opportunity to serve,” Bates said. “I thank my wife and the kids for letting me serve the county for so long because the families sacrifice a lot.”
Sgt. Dave Wiley, who oversees the reserve deputies for the sheriff’s office, said Bates was consistently been one of the busiest volunteers. “He’s been phenomenal as far as putting in hours,” Wiley said.
Bates was interested in working for a police force even before he moved to Minnesota from California in 1985. Some of his friends worked in the Los Angeles Police Department and encouraged him to apply, which he ultimately did. However, his freight broker job paid more and gave him plenty of opportunities to see the world. He has been to South Africa 14 times and he once visited all Major League Baseball parks, for example.
Bates moved to Minnesota in 1991. One of his neighbors, Dave Marquardt worked in the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and told him about the reserve program.
“If people want to get involved in law enforcement you get a chance to see what’s going on,” Bates said. “You get to do a lot of different stuff. Your main job is to do whatever the regular deputies and the department need.”
Bates patrolled in a squad car that had radio communication with the 911 dispatcher and other officers and he had a pager so he knew when his services were needed. He would not be in the middle of a domestic dispute, but he and other reserve officers would be needed to perform another potentially dangerous task of directing traffic at an accident scene.
A particular bad accident can clog up a road for many hours and lead to impatient and reckless drivers. Bates remembers a couple of times where he had to dive out of the way of a vehicle that was coming at him and showing no signs of slowing down.
Bates and a colleague were once hit by a drunk driver when they were sitting in their squad car providing perimeter security at an accident.
He remembers directing a helicopter to a landing spot at a Highway 65 accident. Another experience he will never forget is responding to Minneapolis after the I-35W bridge collapsed. His job was to keep gawkers as clear of the scene as possible by blocking off an intersection near the fallen bridge. This included diverting people who thought loved ones may be on the bridge.
Bates once found blood evidence when searching for a person. He has performed CPR trying to save people.
The most rewarding part of his job was talking to kids and trying to steer them in a positive direction.
“I like to think maybe I helped change direction on some of these kids, maybe a handful or two over all those years,” Bates said.
Bates said he has a bucket list to work on so he felt the time was right to retire from volunteering with the sheriff’s office. The first thing he would like to do is go back to Montana, Utah and Wyoming.
His oldest son went skydiving last year, so now Bates’ brother is trying to talk him into this. That is one activity that is not on Bates’ bucket list, however.
Bates encouraged those interested in police work to try being a reserve officer. You must be at least 21 years old and you must go through a training academy that runs on Wednesday nights and Saturdays for six weeks in March and April, according to Wiley. You must have a driver’s license, a good driving record and a clean criminal record.
The deadline to apply every year is the end of December, Wiley said. You can pick up an application at the sheriff’s office at 13301 Hanson Blvd. N.W. in Andover. Call Wiley at 763-754-4529 with questions.
“We can always use more people,” Bates said. “If you look at all these other departments in the state there are not too many departments where you get to do what Anoka County does. It’s a good group. They’re trained well, and you get to do so many different things.”
Bates grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He served on the USS Graham County with the U.S. Navy from 1960 through 1965. This ship was part of a naval blockade of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis that almost led to a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.
When he was in the Navy and traveling around the world he really gained a greater appreciation for how good life is in America. He saw people sleeping in cardboard boxes. Some would even take the garbage the ship threw out to look for food scraps.
Bates believes that every high school graduate should go in the military for two years. He does not necessarily think they should be thrown into battle, but they would benefit from the life lessons they would learn.
“You get good structure and you have to learn to work with others,” he said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org