Twenty-four hours after Heath Stewart was sworn in as one of the first reserve officers for the Ringgold Police Department, he was out all night signing in volunteers responding to the deadly April 27 storm.
Along with three other newly sworn-in reserve officers, Stewart spent the next week guarding the lot where storm-damaged cars were stored and patrolling Alabama Highway looking for looters.
“The program was supposed to start off a little bit slower,” he said. “But with this disaster coming through, we didn’t have time for all that.”
Police Chief Dan Bilbrey said the four reserves took their oaths April 26, just in time to help with storm response.
“They didn’t even have their uniforms yet,” he said. “It was very good timing.”
Bilbrey said he’s been working to get a reserve program going since he was hired in September. City officials approved the program — one of the few at a North Georgia law enforcement agency — at the beginning of the year. Bilbrey then sorted through applications and chose Stewart, Albert Hill, Kent Woodard and Steve Tipion.
The reserve officers, who serve without pay, are trained to answer calls and respond to emergencies such as the recent tornado just like any other officer, Bilbrey said. But the officers will work on an as-needed basis.
Participation requires a minimum commitment of 20 hours a month, he said. The city is paying for the uniforms, but each officer must have his own weapon, Bilbrey said.
Eventually, Bilbrey said, he would like to build up the reserve program to have six or seven officers at all times.
When Stewart applied for the position, he said he was looking to keep up his credentials as a sworn officer. He had left the Georgia State Patrol in 2007 to start his own business in Ringgold.
But when the storm hit, he realized the advantage he had as a reserve officer to help in a way other volunteers couldn’t — as an extra officer.
“Being here in the city when stuff goes on ... you want to be able to step in and help out,” he said.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...