Can the thin blue line get much thinner?
They offered bonuses, cash rewards, additional vacation time and other perks to anyone who could come up with likely candidates for their agencies, but as law enforcement’s recruitment crisis dragged on last year, few police departments seemed able to attract applicants. And just when it seemed that manpower could not be stretched any thinner, the events of Sept. 11 and the subsequent call-up of military reservists took their in-service people away.
Among those agencies that took action to increase their applicant pool:
Gilbert, Ariz., offered town employees $500 to recruit police candidates, and signing bonuses of $1,500 to officers who transferred from other jurisdictions.
The Los Angeles Police Department said in February that it would provide applicants with $2,000 in relocation money and offered medical insurance for recruits’ domestic partners. Mayor Richard Riordan in May announced a cash reward of $500 for city employees, including police, who recruited new officers. Only three people took advantage of the program.
A $1,000 signing bonus for police recruits was included in DeKalb County, Ga.’s $419-million budget.
In Mesa, Ariz., department officials implemented the Career Enhancement Program, a plan that assigns point values to a variety of skills including fluency in Spanish, paramedic certification and accident-free driving for a two-year period. Compensation bonuses for such skills ranged from $40 to $160 a month.
In Delray Beach, Fla., any police employee who recruits a new officer was given $300, and another $700 when the recruit finishes training.
The Clairton, Pa., City Council in May voted to lower the passing grade on the city’s written civil service test from 85 percent to 80 percent.
The Greensboro, N.C., Police Department’s Student Outreach and Recruiting (SOAR) program admitted its first four cadets. The program uses free tuition at local colleges as an incentive for high school students interested in a career in law enforcement.
Denver Police Chief Gerald R. Whitman in September proposed opening the department’s applicant pool to non-citizens. The practice is already in place at departments in Arvada and Lakewood, Colo., and El Paso, Texas.
Departments dream up
a variety of incentives to generate new recruits.
Waterville, Maine, Police Chief John R. Morris proposed in August that a regional hiring pool be created to lower recruitment costs, which had become increasingly problematic. Chiefs in Augusta and Winthrop agreed to share the advertising tab for candidates.
The lack of new recruits could not come at a worse time for many police departments that were hit with attrition woes, as well.
In Los Angeles, the department lost three officers with more than 20 years of service in May to retirement. Then an additional 19 quit; nearly all of them to work elsewhere. The manpower shortage forced the agency to declare a moratorium on detective training and to begin redeploying members of its elite anti-crime units. Returned to the field were about 10 percent of the Metro Division and 70 detective trainees.
Early retirement packages in East St. Louis, Ill., prompted the departure of 30 officers between 1999 and 2000. Although budgeted for 72 officers, the city got by last year with just 65. East St. Louis is in a “state of emergency,” said Mayor Debra Powell, who in July called on the City Council to take action.
Another factor siphoning officers away from public service has been the lure of lucrative private-security work. While no one can say how many of those who put in their retirement papers after Sept. 11 left for the private sector, those in the security field say they were barraged with retiring officers looking for jobs. Beau Dietl & Associates, a security investigations firm, hired 500 retired officers between October and December. And at least 100 of those retired after the World Trade Center attack, said the company’s chairman, former NYPD detective Richard (Bo) Dietl.
When President Bush mobilized 35,000 reservists on Sept. 15, with the possibility of another 15,000 being called up, small and medium-sized agencies began to feel the pinch. Those called to active duty included Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly, a second-class petty officer in the Coast Guard Reserve. The town of Hortonville, Wis., was left in limbo when Cumberland Chief Steve Linton, who had accepted an offer to head the six-person department, was called to active duty with the Naval Reserve.
Five officers from the Lake Worth, Fla., Police Department were called up. In Fargo, N.D., the police department lost 10 of its sworn personnel and faced the loss of another 9.
In Rutland County, Vt., Sheriff E.J. Elrick, president of the state sheriffs’ association, said many of his colleagues already faced manpower challenges. “The problem is that the hiring pool is so poor at this point,” he said. “You can only stretch people so thin.”
A preliminary injunction requested as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of 115 young Massachusetts state troopers was rejected on March 29 by a federal judge. The troopers wanted the agency to reinstate its mandatory retirement age of 55, arguing that its elimination was thwarting their career advancement. The age cap had been thrown out in 1998 on the grounds that it violated federal age discrimination laws.
Added to the mix last year was the budget crunch felt by many departments:
Charlotte County, Fla., commissioners in May rejected a $5.2-million budget increase requested by Sheriff Bill Clement. As part of a redistribution of manpower, Clement in July reassigned the eight-member K-9 unit to road patrol.
All four members of the Chesapeake, Va., Police Department’s DARE unit were reassigned in July due to budget pressure. The move saved the department $120,000.
Portland, Ore., Police Chief Mark Kroeker said in March that he would lay off 29 police desk clerks in an effort to meet a $1.5-million cut in spending requested by city officials.
Faced with a salary increase of just 2 percent in 2001, the sheriff’s deputies who volunteered for the Johnson County, Ind., SWAT team resigned en masse in September.
Huntingon, W.Va., police officials said in October that the department would close its lobby and records room on weekends and holidays in a budget-cutting move.
The Multnomah County, Ore., Sheriff’s Department laid off two deputies and merged the duties of chief deputy sheriff with the undersheriff’s job, along with other cost-cutting measures to cover a $536,000 shortfall.