Skip to comments.Cities face troubles in hiring cops
Posted on 06/28/2006 5:54:27 PM PDT by qam1
Police departments around the country including in San Antonio are struggling to fill their ranks in the face of growing populations, fluctuating city budgets and baby-boomer retirements.
Combined with a generation that's shying away from policing, many law enforcement authorities characterize it as a perfect storm.
Consider the numbers: Police officials estimate more than 80 percent of the nation's 17,000 law enforcement agencies have vacancies that many can't fill.
In Texas alone, Dallas needs another 800 officers; Houston, up to 1,200. San Antonio is short anywhere between "300 officers on the low end to 500 on the high end," Police Chief William McManus said.
Law enforcement experts point to a variety of reasons to explain the shortage.
Police departments are shouldering more duties, including homeland security and immigration control; many have officers serving in the military.
Hampered by city budgets that fluctuate every year San Antonio likely will have a $21 million surplus for the upcoming budget, but projected multimillion-dollar deficits loom after that long-term planning is difficult.
Meanwhile, a law enforcement-hiring boom in the 1960s and 1970s has police departments facing an exodus of retiring officers as the pool of eligible recruits has shrunk.
For some departments, it's so bad they've resorted to advertising on highway billboards.
As San Antonio officials meet today to see how their funding priorities mesh for the new budget, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said money will be included for more officers.
The number of police, local law enforcement officials said, simply hasn't kept pace with a population that increased by about 111,865 people since 2000, based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2005. The Alamo City has 1.6 officers for every 1,000 people compared to the national average of three.
Response time up
And although the city's crime rate has stayed relatively low compared to other large cities, the department's average response time has slowly crept up since 1995. Police officials say specialized units particularly the Gang Detail, Repeat Offenders Program and Traffic Investigations suffer when new officers automatically go to plug shortages in patrol.
A new Crime Response Unit launched earlier this month and touted as a mobile way to combine all the department's expertise and offset some of its manpower struggles is supposed to target crime hotspots around the city for 60 days. But McManus would like to see it become permanent.
The department has been doing more with less for years, McManus said, adding that more officers is the difference between a "responsive police department, that acts on crimes after they occur, to a preventive, proactive police department."
"No one's getting what they pay for," said Teddy Stewart, president of the Police Officers' Association. "We just don't have the time."
Exactly how many officers are needed is unclear.
A study commissioned by SAPD in 2001 called for 500 more police officers, but the goal never was met. A Crime Control and Prevention District proposed last year would have allowed for 120 new cadet and 60 new officer positions, but voters overwhelmingly shunned the idea.
McManus, who said he's evaluating his staffing needs to present to city officials, estimated the department needs 300 to 500 officers simply to be on par with the city's growth.
However, it's also short about 60 positions it was authorized to fill, and the department estimates it will have another 87 vacancies this year from retirement, death or resignation. Of the 2,008 officers available, some are off sick, on vacation, in academy training or on military leave, McManus said, leaving only 1,894 on the street.
Then there are the nearly 500 police officers who have more than 20 years of service, meaning they're eligible for retirement.
"If the city doesn't start hiring today, it's going to get bad," Stewart said.
But, at least for now, San Antonio's problems seem less dire than many other cities'. Law enforcement experts say a worrying trend has left police departments nationwide clamoring over a smaller pool of recruits and unable to fill vacancies they have money for. "We have our backs against the wall," said Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt, whose department struggled to land the nearly 70 cadets who graduated in May.
In Phoenix, where police will lose 372 officers to retirement this year, "we test and test and test, and we're having a hard time finding enough quality candidates," spokeswoman Stacie Derge said.
"We've got the money to do it but we just can't find the recruits," said David Cohen, spokesman for the San Diego Police Department, where an average of eight officers are retiring a month. "We're all going after the same people."
But in San Antonio, McManus said the department has had more qualified candidates than the money to fund new positions. Last year, 2,728 applied but only 47 cadets graduated from the academy.
"Every police department would like to see more applicants," police spokesman Sgt. Gabe Trevino said, "but we still have enough to choose from."
The city's strong military presence and low cost of living, combined with the department's good reputation and competitive benefits package make for a good recruiting climate, he said.
A lower educational requirement also may be a reason. In Dallas and Houston, recruits need 60 hours of college credit or four years of military service. In San Antonio, applicants need only a high school diploma. Candidates with higher education, however, receive more pay.
Without the educational requirement, "we'd dramatically increase our applicant pool," Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle said.
Dallas, which needs to hire 250 officers each year simply to break even with those retiring, barely can keep up, he said.
"We've got the money. Our problem is a problem of volume," Kunkle said.
The stringent standards employed by most police departments mean they routinely reject 95 percent of their applicants, so to hire about 300 officers, 3,000 need to apply.
"The problem is getting those 3,000," Kunkle said. "There's just not as many people who want to be police officers today."
Jack Riley, acting director for the Center of Quality Policing, part of the Rand Corp., researched the shortage last year and pointed to several cultural and social issues to explain the phenomenon.
More young people hold college degrees today, and even a high school diploma can land someone a higher-paying career than the $32,000 an average starting salary in policing provides.
Public service-minded individuals increasingly go to the military, and the private homeland security industry lures those looking for good money.
A higher level of financial debt and more obesity, drug use and lower physical fitness among young people narrow the pool even further.
"A generation ago, we thought the job of policing spoke for itself. I'm not sure it does anymore," Riley said.
Elaine Deck, a researcher at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said police departments should up the ante with their marketing campaigns and revisit, perhaps even modernize, their message.
As the U.S. Army did with its "Army of One" campaign, she said, they need to target a Generation X that's more concerned with individual development than public service, that wants to move into high-powered positions, earn higher pay, and retire early.
And increasingly, that's what departments are doing.
Many, like Houston, have turned to creative strategies employed by private industry. They fan out across the country looking for recruits, from military bases, universities and schools. When automotive layoffs were announced in Detroit, they flocked there.
Police officers relocating to Houston get a $7,000 signing bonus.
Dallas also has invested heavily in advertising to flaunt a lucrative signing bonus for officers who complete the academy.
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social (and sometimes nostalgic) aspects that directly effects Generation Reagan / Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations (i.e. The Baby Boomers) are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details and previous articles.
Repeal most of the stupid laws that are on the books and officers can really focus on laws that need to be enforced.
Now, what group is it that we know will do the job that Americans won't do?
Where I went to school, a 95% rejection rate of 3,000 applicants would leave 150, not 300 officers left.
Math is apparently not part of those stringent standards.
Well, I'm not certain its just that. The sarcastic nickname 'Officer Friendly' was coined for a reason. Do't get me wrong--there are some top notch cops out there, and I don't envy the duty cops have to pull in urban areas. But, I've known personally some people who went into law enforcement who were total a**hats. Now they have the protection of a badge. Not a good advertisement for a career, especially when you see articles where the primary duty for cops is to stake out a fireworks stand in another state in order to confiscate property.
A call for a sane and armed populace.
Apparently, there are no such stringent standards for journalists.
In Austin, most the cops were pretty good when I worked there. In Houston, for many years, they were just a gang with the city paying for their colors. I hear they're better, now. In Waco, the county sherrifs started staking out the fireworks stands, and reporting to the fire department. If people drive into Waco with fireworks, they intended to pull them over and write them $200 tickets, as fireworks are illegal in the city (even possession). The fireworks stands set up decoys and gave them empty bags, so all they caught were people who hadn't broken any laws. It was on the front page of the paper, and is turning into a pretty good embarassment. I figure if cops have time to stake out fireworks stands, we've got plenty.
And yet, in virtually every city, 2-3 cars respond to every broken tail light!
Traffic "enforcement" is #1 priority, recovering stolen property, busting drug dealers, etc. is WAAAYY down the list.
Issuing tickets is revenue, combating serious crime is expensive.
See, now YOU are overqualified for the position!
I think part of the problem is who would want to be a cop today when your own department's administration won't back you up if you shoot someone in the line of duty, and it happens to be a politically incorrect shooting (usually white cop, black "victim"). Or just the fact that they investigate every shooting as if the cop is the perpetrator. So, you end up with a ruined career, bad reputation, or even jail. And, again if the locals don't convict you, it can end up with the federals coming after you, like what happened in that scumbucket Rodney King's case. Four good cops ruined, and one scumbucket out there to cause more trouble in the world, which he did. Disgusts me.
IMO, the local PD's are no longer here to protect the public, but to collect revenue for the pols.
It takes person with a sadistic streak and/or lack of conscience to want to do the job of a traffic cop now-a-days, so no wonder they are having a difficult time in recruiting.
ROFL....Math and journalists never seem to go together...
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