The "CSI-factor," combined with a challenging job market, accounts for larger class sizes than ever, says Kasey Tucker-Gail Ph.D., a criminal justice instructor at the University of Toledo. Her goal is to develop a major push to attract more agencies, in Ohio and across the states, for the purpose of helping her students find jobs.
The University of Toledo has more than 500 majors between the undergrad and graduate program. As hiring slows, Tucker-Gail tells students they must be willing to move around — sometimes going out of state — to find success.
In Ohio and southern Michigan in particular, there are not enough jobs for the number of students in the law enforcement program. Because prospects are a bit better in the Southwest, Tucker-Gail has formed partnerships with agencies like the Phoenix Police Department.
"They come up and we open it up to all the universities; they [administer] their tests and give out background packets to individuals who are successful," says Tucker-Gail. She explains, "We're asking students to look in Ohio, but we also need our students to have jobs. I'm not doing my job if I'm only getting [them] hired in Ohio, and I'm not doing my job if I'm only getting them hired in Arizona."
Recruiting can be trying on both sides of the fence. When only 10 percent of prospective officers are hired on, it pays to start off with a large, diverse applicant pool. Small agencies in particular need to "think big," especially in light of shrinking funds.
Going the distance
Phoenix PD is one of the top five highest-paid agencies in its state, and competition for employment remains fierce. Still, Sgt. Forrest Vincent, in charge of recruiting, says the agency's not hiring like it used to since the nation's budget crisis has put the brakes on regular testing. As many agencies struggle to pay their way through the process, they're still wrestling with a myriad of old challenges, such as first finding certified individuals with the right skills.
Vincent reports he has had great success recruiting from the University of Toledo.
"We don't ignore our own backyard by any means, but we also know that we want to get qualified people," says Vincent, who reports that approximately 30 percent of hires are out-of-state recruits. He says Phoenix PD chooses these other states based on their aggressive criminal justice programs, or the hiring climate in that state, so as not to steal jobs from other agencies.
Military is also a likely venue for potential hires, as many vets "are used to serving their country and want to continue that service," says Vincent. "It's a lot of the same values that we hold dear — dedication to duty, mission accomplishment, loyalty and camaraderie."
But it's not enough for recruits to show up and show interest; they must measure up to P.O.S.T. standards and demonstrate that they will be good officers.
Background checks can get patchy. "Folks who are applying who've never been police officers have issues in their background, whether it be from drug use to driver's license issues, that make them not so desirable for us," says Chief Wayne Torpy of the Los Alamos (New Mexico) Police. Torpy says the number of new officer candidates is staying about the same, and maybe even increasing, at the modest-sized department. Yet he contends it's becoming harder to find post-academy, certified officers, and says the problem's more prevalent today compared to 10 years ago.
For example, he has seen the window of past drug use shift from what was previously acceptable: They used to look to the past three to five years if an applicant had been using drugs within that time. Now, he says, sometimes they interview candidates whose drug use has occurred within the last year or six months. "It's not so much that they did it; it's how recently they did it that has become a problem," he adds.