I don't understand why anyone is surprised about this? It's been going on as a "reward" for political support for at least the last 50 years that I know of!
I had a Cousin that was a "Reserve Deputy" in Middlesex County, I've seen the badge and ID of two people (both prominent business people) from Norfolk and Bristol Counties in the past few months.
Back ~20 years ago, I was offered the "Reserve Deputy" credentials. But I was also told that I would be expected to donate to that Sheriff's campaign and attend most of the fund-raising events he held, etc. I estimated that it would cost me ~$500/year to keep that badge and ID and I'd be "Owned"! Not for me!! One thing our town fathers/mothers soon realized was that nobody "owned" me and I've done my job and faced down any official that attempted to pull rank (as one selectwoman did).
To put it simply, if you are a big political supporter of your local sheriff, this is one of the plums he'll give you. One person noted above was GIVEN it and never even requested it . . . the sheriff insisted!
I can't comment about other counties, but the Middlesex Deputy Sheriff's Association includes several units of sworn reserve deputies who are MCJTC academy trained and certified police officers. In addition to the deputies doing public safety functions, this group has others who do tremendous charitable work and fundraising in Middlesex County too.
If anybody is interested in finding out what they are REALLY about, instead of making bogus generalizations based on no information, check out www.middlesexdeputysheriff.com