Sonoma Stories: Sonoma County’s last reserve deputy sheriff signs off

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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.

“I’m not convinced it’s gone,” the sheriff said. If the hiring market for law enforcement officers slows, he said, “I think you’d see reserves come back into the picture.”

It saddened Duckworth to leave the picture. Working as a Sonoma County deputy one shift a week, typically on a Friday night, was an extraordinary experience, he said.

But at this point in his life he needs to be home more for his sons, Lucas, 16, and Joaquin, 5. And, he said, his work with Investment Architects has become more demanding.

Duckworth’s interest in police works goes far back. His English roots still evident in his speech, he tells of growing up in the working class northern town of Burnley and volunteering as a reserve constable at age 23.

His training consisted of being handed a truncheon and advised, “Try not to hit them in the head.”

His three-year stint as a reserve constable, he said, “was an eye-opener.” He came to appreciate the great hardships and trials in people’s lives that can cause them to come in contact with the authorities.

While he dealt with individuals whose conduct qualified them to be regarded as bad people, he decided most were good people having a bad day.

A catastrophe struck while Duckworth was a reserve constable. In May 1985, flames engulfed the Bradford City soccer stadium early in a game that had drawn a large crowd.

Fifty-six people died and more than 250 were injured. Duckworth said he played a small role in the police response, and he was struck deeply by how police officers and firefighters performed their jobs amid horror and mass mourning.

“The quality of the person who’s able to do that is astonishing,” he said.

He told the Sonoma County deputies at his retirement party that he never imagined he’d witness another tragedy on the scale of the Bradford fire. But then came the North Bay firestorms of October.

He was so proud of the officers who struggled to save lives and console survivors at the stadium then, he told his colleagues. And, he added, “I can’t say what an honor and a privilege it is to wear the same uniform as you.”

Later, Duckworth reflected on the challenges that confront patrol officers who “have to make decisions in crisis that will be reviewed at leisure,” and on the extraordinary satisfaction that can come from police work.

He remembered during a patrol shift in Sonoma County pulling away and arresting a man who’d been assaulting his girlfriend.

Maybe a year later, the woman recognized him at a gas station and approached to tell him that had he not intervened, the man would quite likely have killed her.

The now-retired reserve deputy likes his regular job in stocks and bonds. However, he said, “I don’t think anybody ever thanked me for saving their life in investments.”

You can reach Staff WRiter Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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