GREENFIELD — When Fortville Officer Matt Fox was shot in the line of duty July 27, every officer on duty rushed to the scene in Lawrence, just outside Hancock County.
Fox underwent surgery and survived. Meanwhile, the shaken officers working that night depended on reserve officers to pick up the slack.
But no one was on the road faster than Hancock County Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy Jeary Smith, thanks to his being part of a core group of reserve officers who have their own police cars.
“I get a text, ‘Somebody’s been shot,’” said Smith, who has been a reserve officer for 23 years. “I called dispatch, … I said, ‘You’re gonna need help.’ Ten minutes later, I was out the drive.”
About a year ago, Smith, who heads the reserve division of 26 officers; and fellow reserve Jon Lawrence, brought an unusual idea to the sheriff’s department. They offered to outfit their personal vehicles as police cars in order to cut down on response time in an emergency.
Lawrence, who has 10 years of experience as a reserve, already had a Ford Crown Victoria, a make and model frequently used by law enforcement agencies. Smith offered to purchase one of the department’s trade-in cars to use as his patrol car.
Having a squad car readily available would do wonders for response time, the pair reasoned. Historically, going on patrol first required a trip to the jail, where reserves had to find and sign out a squad car. Were a car unavailable, the officer would find he had wasted a trip.
“For us to come in, volunteer for eight hours, it takes 10,” Smith said.
It took months to work out the details, but Smith and Lawrence ultimately found they had support.
“It’s kind of thinking outside the box, coming up with other ways to be resourceful for the county,” Sheriff Mike Shepherd said.
It was determined the county would lease the cars from the officers and insure them. The officers would take them home at night, maintain them and agree to abide by the same take-home car rules as the full-time officers.
For example, the cars can’t be driven out of state without permission, and only a member of the sheriff’s department may get behind the wheel.
The county also pays for gasoline used while officers are on patrol.
Smith said he and Lawrence modeled the idea off a similar program in Marion County, which offers its reserve officers take-home cars. The arrangement is win-win, he said.
“It’s so easy for us,” Smith said. “We can drop what we’re doing without wasting an hour, … be there, help and disappear into the night like we were never there.”
Smith and Lawrence piloted the program for six months from March to August. Now, the program has expanded to include reserve officers Robert Huskisson and Blake Wampler.
Wampler is Smith’s son-in-law. He, too, went out on patrol the night Fox was shot, but unlike his father-in-law, his response time was not immediate.
“I was able to respond, but I had to go to the jail, locate a car, which we had other reserves come out as well,” he said. “It’s just a delay time, as to where now, I can just go out in my driveway, and I’m on. It would have saved me every bit of 30, 40 minutes.”
Wampler, who joined the reserves about five years ago, is now patrolling in a used Crown Victoria he purchased in Pennsylvania. The car was formerly used as part of a federal motor pool fleet and is now complete with lights, sirens and department decals.
Wampler said he isn’t the only one who is grateful to have a squad car in the driveway.
His neighborhood is also thrilled, he said, as having patrol cars visible is largely considered a deterrent to crime.
The newest addition to the program is Robert Huskisson, who has been a reserve with the department for eight years.
Huskisson purchased his own 2012 Dodge Charger, an endeavor he said took more work than he expected.
“Finding a good used car with good maintenance records with decent mileage is rare,” he said.
Huskisson began patrolling in the Charger Dec. 1.
Chief Deputy Brad Burkhart, Shepherd’s second in command, said the department is open to expanding the program further, though officers who are interested will have to go through a selection process.
Burkhart said he’s been impressed with the success of the program so far.