TEXAS, USA — Hiring and keeping police officers has been a problem across the nation for years.
In a 2019 national department survey conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum, 63% of responding agencies said the number of applicants for police officer positions had decreased in the last nine years.
The data showed 36% of departments reported a significant decrease and 27% reported a smaller decrease.
Across Central Texas, it's the same story.
Waco PD Personnel Sergeant Jennifer Duncan said he remembers when 300 or more people would apply for a handful of job openings.
That's no longer the case.
"In the past couple years we've had 150 sign up and less than 100 show up to take the test," Duncan said.
Killeen PD Personnel Resource Officer Wilson Lopez told 6 News he also has a problem with people showing up.
They typically have more than 200 applicants online for each hiring cycle.
Less than 100 show up to take the civil service exam that starts the hiring process.
Why is that number so low? And why are there so few hires that result?
Police departments told 6 News there are some very specific factors.
Police officers often work 10 hour shifts. New officers typically must start on a night shift, and police work can be dangerous.
6 News looked at the starting salary for officers by filing information requests.
Waco: $46,855 to $48,260
Lopez told 6 News one of the biggest factor is that other jobs out there also provide good pay.
"The impact is the other job opportunities that are out there,” Lopez said.
Recruiting personal at Waco PD agreed. Duncan told 6 News law enforcement agencies are competing against other job markets for candidates as the unemployment rate is currently very low.
"There are a lot of different available jobs for the class of recruits we are looking for. Some of it has to do with recruiting the younger generation. Some of that is learning what appeals to them," Duncan said.
Applicants don't qualify
Both the Waco Police Department and Killeen Police Department told 6 News "only" around 100 people show up to test for jobs. That may seem like a good turnout, but there is another issue with hiring: Applicants who don't qualify.
“It’s not just that we are eliminating folks because we don’t like certain people. People eliminate themselves,” Waco PD Detective Babe Torres said.
If an individual has been convicted of a class B misdemeanor or a higher offense in the last 10 years, they generally cannot serve as a police officer.
Torres told 6 News too many people have records with drug possession charges, DWI’s, or other convictions.
After dismissing those who do not qualify, police told 6 News they see the group of around 90 applicants reduced to 20 or less. Even if most of those applicants make it though academy training, there are not enough to fill all vacancies.
“We usually exhaust the entire list of qualified applicants before we fill all our spots,” Duncan said.
Both Waco PD and Killeen PD told 6 News they are looking at different strategies to fill their positions.
Waco PD is now investing several thousand dollars more in advertising at the direction of their chief.
“Our advertising budget probably increased 30%,” Duncan said.
Sgt. Duncan said the Waco Police Department is now using Facebook ads, billboards and ads at movies theaters to reach a new generation.
The department also made its initial application online easier to fill out.
Duncan said the changes have already made a difference.
“We’ve had 266 applications for this test... In the past several years we’ve maxed out at one hundred and fifty,” Duncan said.
KPD is relaxing policies to now allow officers to have facial hair and tattoos. It's still working on new a new advertising campaign and is going to be sending more officers out to local job fairs to engage more people.
Both departments are actively looking for more officers.
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