The job of a Columbia County sheriff's deputy is to serve and protect residents.
But not all deputies are paid for that service.
More than 20 certified police officers donate their time through the sheriff's office's Reserve Program.
"They don't get paid a dime," Sheriff Clay Whittle said. "It is a way for them to give back to their community. They like being involved in their community and they are good at what they do. You would not know a reserve deputy from a paid deputy if you saw them riding on the street."
The program was born from discussions between then-chief deputy Whittle and current Chief Deputy Lou Ciamillo, a former Maryland police officer, who said many northern departments employed a reserve program. Ciamillo is a graduate of the first reserve class in April 1993 and was hired to head the Records Division.
The reserve deputies are required to spend about $3,000 to attend the East Georgia Regional Police Academy to become a certified peace officer. They also must serve at least 20 hours each month, though most volunteer more than that, Ciamillo said.
They have the same responsibilities as paid officers.
"There is no distinguishing them from a regular officer," Ciamillo said. "They wear the same uniform. Many of them work as many hours, too."
Some are ex-law enforcement members who want to stay close to the profession, while other reserve deputies are considering a career in law enforcement and want a glimpse of it before they quit their current job, Ciamillo said.
"Most people we get have never done (law enforcement) before," Whittle said. "Just about every walk of life, we've had."
Tracy Kerr, whose family owns and operates Kerr Motors Inc. in Augusta, volunteers 60 to 80 hours per month as a reserve deputy. Kerr said he joined the program about four years ago because he had friends in law enforcement and found it interesting.
Kerr said he's usually assigned to the Special Operations Division in a traffic car on the night shift, but he also helps on the road patrol and any other area where help is needed.
"It is interesting," he said. "The main thing, the reason why I do what I do, is I am out there to help people, to give something back to the community."
Fellow reserve program alum, Harlem Department of Public Safety Chief Jesse Bowman, said he agrees with Kerr's motivation.
"We knew we were doing a service to the community and that's what it was all about," said Bowman, who graduated from the second reserve class in early 1994 and served as a lieutenant in the program.
Reserve deputies are especially helpful around the holidays, when extra police are needed on patrols and for special events such as parades. But they serve in nearly all areas of the department.
These volunteers not only protect Columbia County residents, they also save taxpayers money.
These volunteer deputies have saved the department more than $2 million in personnel expenses since the program started, said Capt. Clay Smith, who oversees the Administration and Community Services Division, under which the reserve program falls.
Working an average 5,500 volunteer hours each year, the reserve deputies save the department about $82,000 annually. That's based on the lowest-paid employee at $15 per hour and doesn't include the cost of benefits, Ciamillo said.
Bowman, who retired this year from the Special Operations Division at Wackenhut after more than 25 years working security at Savannah River Site, isn't the only former reserve deputy still active in law enforcement. In fact, many have been hired at the sheriff's office.
Reserve program alumni employed at the sheriff's office include Maj. John Wheeler, who oversees Detention and Court Services; Capt. Jim Leonard, who manages Detention Administration and Court Services; Sgt. Harold Clack, a juvenile crime investigator; and Arnie Bernat, the sheriff's office IT manager.
Bernat, who has degrees in computer science and criminal justice, served as a reserve deputy for a decade before his 2004 retirement from the IT department at the Medical College of Georgia.
As a reserve deputy, Bernat worked mostly on bike patrol.
"There's something about the camaraderie and all that you develop over time with your shift and you become like a family," he said. "It's been a really enlightening experience and an enjoyable experience."
Ranks in the reserve program always need to be bolstered as it serves as a hiring pool for the sheriff's office.
"We've had a lot of reserves that had very unique skills that came to work for us as reserves and ultimately came on full time," Ciamillo said. "We really do well with reserves because it kind of gives us the ability to observe them long before we have the opportunity to hire them."
Anyone interested in becoming a reserve deputy should contact Lt. Patricia Champion at (706) 541-3970 or visit www.columbiacountyso.org.
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