Sonoma Stories: Sonoma County’s last reserve deputy sheriff signs off
Through the 22 years Anthony Duckworth responded to 911 calls and took look-sees into suspicious circumstances in unincorporated areas of Sonoma County, it was impossible to tell the key difference between him and all, or nearly all, of his fellow deputy sheriffs.
Duckworth was out there wearing the badge and doing the work — for free.
As a one-day-a-week reserve deputy, the 57-year-old British-born Petaluma investment advisor did everything professional deputies do. But he did it as a volunteer.
Sometimes a civilian he’d pulled over or approached would point a finger and declare, “I pay your salary.” Duckworth admits he was tempted to reply, “Well, actually … ” But he always thought better of it and didn’t let on that he wasn’t paid at all.
When he retired days ago from the county’s 52-year-old reserve deputy sheriff program, Duckworth became, for the moment at least, the last of a breed.
In years past, as many as 75 trained reservists worked part-time and voluntarily alongside paid, full-time deputies. Those volunteers augmented the department’s paid staff and in times of crisis presented a quick, economical way to put more deputies in the streets.
Some reservists, like Duckworth, kept their regular civilian jobs and enjoyed the challenges and rewards of a second voluntary career in law enforcement. Santa Rosa attorney Mike Voorhees had been a reserve deputy for 40 years when he worked his final patrol shift in 2016.
Other reservists used the volunteer position as a stepping stone to paid police work: Two former Sonoma County sheriffs, Jim Piccinini and the late Mark Ihde, began their careers as reserve deputies.
With Duckworth’s retirement, the department has no more reservists. Current sheriff Rob Giordano marked Duckworth’s departure by praising him and all who’ve served as reserve deputies, and by granting Duckworth a promotion that allowed him to retire as captain of the reserves.
A roomful of appreciative career deputies smiled and applauded as Giordano presented Duckworth a Reserve Captain badge and thanked him for the more than 7,000 hours he put in serving and protecting the people of Sonoma County.
That he did it while also working a full-time job and supporting a family, Giordano said at a surprise send-off for Duckworth at the sheriff’s office, “is amazing.”
“We love the reserves, but the world has changed so much that we can’t get reserves like we used to,” the sheriff said.
There was a time when it was simpler to become a reserve deputy in Sonoma County, when the training and qualifying were not as rigorous. But for years now, a prospective reservist must pass the same background checks, fulfill the same requirements and complete the same training as someone seeking to become a full-time deputy or police officer.
It’s a lot to ask of potential reserve deputies, Giordano said. If accepted, he said, “they get into a patrol car and risk their lives, for free.”
Just now there’s strong demand for qualified people interested in being hired as peace officers and that, too, contributes to the decline in interest in the reserve program. There’s no need for an academy graduate to become a reservist as an introduction to law enforcement if he or she is able to quickly find a paying job.
Despite all that, Giordano doesn’t believe that with Duckworth’s retirement the sheriff’s office has seen the last of the reservists.