Calling All Future Police Officers ; A Shortage of Recruits Has Law-Enforcement Agencies across the US Scrambling to Fill the Ranks

Article excerpt

It seems that police work - the ho-hum "protect and serve" variety once glamorized in the 1970s and '80s on TV shows like "Adam- 12," "CHiPs," and "Hill Street Blues" - went out with wide lapels.

The result is a major shortage of police recruits - which has reached crisis proportions in some cities - and fewer cops on the street than top brass say are needed for public protection.

The problem has several sources: low pay, a big hole left by retiring baby boomers, and an image problem that steers the few young people who are interested in law-enforcement careers toward crime-scene investigation and forensics, rather than everyday street patrols.

To remedy the manpower shortage, some law-enforcement agencies are getting creative. They are giving new recruits help with down payments on homes and, for experienced officers in other locales, they are offering signing bonuses for switching to a new city. They're even encouraging their own officers to find new recruits in exchange for extra vacation time.

"I haven't been to a place in this country where agencies aren't concerned about the number and quality of their officers," says Elaine Deck, who studies recruitment issues for the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Alexandria, Va.

The shortage has made officer retention a top concern of police departments, most of which report they are 10 percent shy of the numbers they need, she says. Law-enforcement agencies say the consequences are slower emergency-response times and backlogs in criminal cases.

In an aggressive move to get more boots on the ground, the Houston Police Department wants to offer $7,000 signing bonuses to any police officer who moves here and completes a 12-week modified training academy.

The idea is to lure experienced officers from other Texas law- enforcement agencies, so the city won't have to spend as much time training them. In return, the relocated officers will receive financial credit for up to five years of experience elsewhere - something that is not typically done.

The proposal came before a city council committee last week and hasn't yet been set for a full vote. The department hopes to train 70 "lateral" officers - those with experience in other Texas agencies - in March.

"I can't ever remember having a full lateral class, but we are already getting inquiries," says Craig Ferrell Jr., the department's general counsel, who says lateral classes average between 25 and 35 officers.

At the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in California, officials say such incentives are working. Down 10 percent on its staffing earlier this year, the department tripled its advertising budget and began offering signing bonuses of up to $5,000. …