TAMPA (FOX 13) - Over the past few months, the news has been full of violence against law enforcement officers. Many believe being a cop gets more dangerous every day. That could be one reason the number of reserve police officers and sheriff's deputies is down nationwide.
In Hillsborough County, it's down by two thirds.
"At one point, we had 150 reserve deputies," said Major Chad Chronister of the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office. "We're down to just under 50 now."
Reserve deputies in Hillsborough are not paid. They're volunteers, but they're required to have the same police academy training as regular deputies -- more than 500 hours.
They wear a badge and carry a gun, but are always paired with another reserve or a regular deputy while on duty.
Chronister says they're all heavily screened. "You have to go through and weed out those people who watch movies and want to come and be an action hero at the office. That's someone who's gonna get themselves hurt or someone else hurt."
He says they want reserve deputies whose main interest is to help others -- People like Humberto Coto.
From his boyhood in Costa Rica, Coto dreamed of being a police officer.
"Maybe in a previous life I should have been a law enforcement officer, but instead I became a doctor," said Coto, chief of cardiology at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.
Coto is also a reserve sheriff's deputy. Recently we spent time with him in the hospital and on patrol.
"They always ask me, 'Are you crazy?' Or they ask me, 'When do you find the time?' I do find the time and I don't think I'm crazy. I just have a passion for the sheriff's office," explained the 66-year-old, who had to pass physical training at the academy alongside 20-year-olds.
Lorenzo Martinez makes his living as a building contractor, but he's also a reserve deputy who works mostly with the sheriff's aviation section. He's often in one of the sheriff's choppers as a tactical flight officer. He operates the infrared cameras that help track suspects and helps guide ground units in to make the arrest.
Both Coto and Martinez put their lives on the line with no pay.
"I think it boils down to a natural drive that I have to do something that's right," Martinez offered. "This is the fit for me."
The sheriff's office is recruiting qualified candidates to add to its reserves. Call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at 813-247-8070 for more information.