A Nashville reserve police officer and a Hope teenager were involved in a high-speed chase through Bartholomew County that had a tragic ending.
Xavier Scrogham, 18, died when his motorcycle left Sunland Road, and he struck a telephone pole guide wire late into the evening Aug. 29.
The actions of Leonard Burch, 25, a Columbus resident, are at the center of the issue — specifically what duties he was approved for as a reserve officer. Burch was off duty, wearing street clothes and driving the marked Town of Nashville police car.
The chase began after Burch noticed Scrogham did not have a license plate on the motorcycle. Burch activated his squad car’s lights as Scrogham sped up and the chase ensued.
Bartholomew County sheriff’s detectives are investing the incident as a criminal investigation, examining dash-camera video and Nashville Police Department policies, among other things.
The Scrogham family’s attorney has filed a notice of the family’s intent to sue the Town of Nashville.
This incident is one that area law enforcement agencies should watch closely. Most importantly, it should prompt them to review their policies regarding reserve officers and determine whether they are appropriate or need to be changed.
Reserve officers have been used to help bridge gaps in shortages of full-time officers, although how departments use their services — from crowd control to patrols — may vary.
A benefit to taxpayers is that they don’t require the same financial investment as full-time officers.
One thing that is the same, however, is that reserve officers must live up to the same high standards as full-time officers.
Local law enforcement agencies need to review their policies about reserve officers and determine whether:
Such officers are being used properly in assignments
The reserve officers have received adequate training
Reserve officers should have limits on their police powers
Use of a police vehicle by an off-duty reserve officer is appropriate
Department policies about reserve officers are clearly defined and current
The public’s cooperation with law enforcement involves an element of trust, which involves officers acting responsibly and with people’s best interests in mind — even reserves. Local police agencies should use this incident as a self-examination process and learning opportunity to ensure that their reserve officers are protecting and serving the public in the best manner possible.