Sunday, May 18, 2008

Has The Tide Turned on Police Recruiting?

Over the past 5 or so years recruiting for Law Enforcement has been trying at best and frustrating at the worst. When I started as a City of Santa Fe Police Officer in 1988 now Captain Gary Johnson and I were among almost 100 applicants who applied for three positions in the city police department. When we were hired we started at $6.50 an hour or approximately $14,000 a year. Wages slowly increased mostly due at the time to the start of police unions. Yet, as wages increased, applicants to the positions rapidly decreased. 100 applicants for three openings no longer was the norm. In the last two years only 1 or 2 applicants would make it through the testing and background process, sometimes no one would survive the vetting process.

This morning I ran across the this article in the Albuquerque Journal (subscription may be required). In the copyrighted article titled "Everybody wants to be a Cop" Author T.J. Wilham describes how

Teachers, mechanics, stockbrokers, contractors and even bartenders are giving up their careers to make big bucks and join Albuquerque's finest— and they are doing so in record numbers. Come July, the Albuquerque Police Department is expected to seat an academy class of up to 100 cadets. It will likely be the largest class in the academy's 60-year history. The largest so far was the class of 1984, with 63 in a year.

According to the article starting pay in Albuquerque has increased 47 percent boosting basic pay above the $58,000 mark. Yet there are still questions about whether or not the department will reach authorized staffing levels after years of being short over 100 officers. I am curious as to how the change from 10 hour shifts to 8 hour shifts will work out. The amount of time officers must spend in court and other day off duties makes it very hard to get by with the traditional 2 days off. With ten hour shifts officers have three days off but many times one or two of those days are spent in court or other overtime duties.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office currently has one vacancy and two individuals completing background checks. One of those two is expected to be hired. Pay has increased at the sheriff's office each year over the last 6 years with increases over 15% happening last year. The City of Santa Fe is currently doing much better at hiring then in previous years and soon could be adding another 45 officers to its current staffing levels. When I first started as an officer most people became officers because they had a burning desire to be one or they did it for the excellent benefits officers have, the pay was not a big incentive. Now traditional careers which once paid more have fallen below officers in pay and when you combine the pay with the benefits Law Enforcement becomes a much more lucrative career. It is still not for everyone. It is often hours of tedious duties, patrols and paperwork uninterrupted by minutes of terror, horror, or emotional stress. However, you can never forget the satisfaction you earn when you help someone.

I am glad to see pay increasing to a respectable level, when I started at $6.50 an hour I literally knew police officers who lived in public housing with their spouse and kids. Not as a community policing effort but because they qualified for the housing and could not afford anything else in Santa Fe. One of the things that has always bothered me was officers who encouraged their children to do anything else but law enforcement. When pay was low and working conditions tough I could see why they did it but still disagreed. Law Enforcement is an honorable and fulfilling career and we should encourage our youth to look at this career. Now that pay and benefits are up to par we should do more to show young people what a great life you can have as an officer.

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