Chief's Message: The Challenge Of Hiring Police Officers

Chief's Message: The Challenge Of Hiring Police Officers
Posted on 10/07/2015
By Assistant Chief Paul Brenneman

In early 1985, the State of Utah conducted a test to establish a hiring list that departments from around the state could use to find suitable candidates who wanted to become police officers. The test aimed to identify quality officer candidates. Back then, the testing was conducted in large auditoriums, and it was not uncommon for the facility to be full of people who wanted to be police officers. Back then, anyone who wanted to be a police officer had to be hired by a police department prior to attending the academy.

Those numbers grew even more over the next few decades, with thousands applying for a handful of jobs.

Skip forward to 2013. The Cottonwood Heights Police Department (CHPD) issued a hiring announcement, seeking people who want to become police officers, specifically asking for officer candidates who have successfully completed their academy training. The department received more than 90 applications for one opening.

Over the past five months, CHPD has conducted two separate recruitments for police officer positions. One of them sought two qualified candidates who had never attended the police academy. There were forty applicants who applied. The next recruitment sought experienced officers who are also known as “laterals.” These officers have a minimum of five years of police experience. We received a total of 17 applications , only seven of of which were selected to enter the testing process.

What is the difference between 1985 and now? In 1985, the average person had no cause to question the integrity and ability of a police officer. No one knew what a “24 hour news cycle” was nor did they care. Rodney King and Eric Garner were completely unknown to the world and Michael Brown had yet to be born. Most police officers were respected and revered, not feared by the average Utahn. The economy was such that a government job was secure and had good benefits with a stable pension looming at the end of a reputable career.

Situations across the nation have altered the way officers are viewed by the general public. In the past, officers were afforded the benefit of the doubt until the official investigation ran its course. In today’s atmosphere, the officer is scrutinized by the press and on social media even though the investigation has not been completed.

They are now ridiculed, scorned, assaulted and even killed because they wear the uniform of a police officer. Many know about the ambushes of officers in New York, Las Vegas, Texas, Atlanta, Eagle Mountain, Draper and the list unfortunately goes on. While there are some officers who need to be removed from the profession, the vast majority work hard, care about the people they serve and do so with integrity. These developments can and do affect the number of people who seek positions as officers. The respect previously shown to those who wear the uniform has been drastically reduced. The allure to become and officer is no longer so strong.

These high profile attacks on officers are only part of the problem. Changes in retirement benefits and restriction on lateral movements between departments have also lessened the appeal of being a first responder. Such changes have drastically reduced the number of qualified applicants.

The hiring of a police officer in this day is difficult and will likely get worse before it gets better. Competition for limited candidates is stronger than ever. Large city police departments in the valley are down twenty and thirty officers. Smaller agencies have similar issues with vacancies. All will continue to struggle to keep their ranks full.

CHPD has been lucky in finding good quality candidates but even now, we are starting to struggle, and recognize that things need to be done to reverse the trends we are seeing. We in the profession need to work hard to mend fences with those who we serve so that trust and respect can be the norm again. Those who are consumers of the news can demand that the media present a balanced view of events based upon facts known and not conjecture and rumors. They can work to reduce the negative impact that the 24 hour news cycle has created on the way we view news stories. Finally, we can find ways to entice our best and brightest candidates to join the profession of public service. While we can’t compete with the private sector with salaries, we can return to the days when the prospect of a fair pension that awaits those who successfully navigate years of service in harm’s way.