The New York Times
December 28, 2005
Police Forces, Their Ranks Thin, Offer Bonuses, Bounties and More
By TIMOTHY EGAN
SEATTLE, Dec. 26 - Among the depleted ranks of police departments throughout the country, it has come to this: desperate want ads offering signing bonuses to new recruits, and cops paying other cops to find new cops.
It seems nobody wants to be a police officer anymore, officials say. As a result, departments are taking a page from recruiters in sports and the corporate world. Here in King County, the most populous in the Pacific Northwest, the Sheriff's Office is trying a kind of bounty hunting: any deputy who can bring in someone who eventually becomes an officer will get a bonus of 40 hours of extra vacation time, worth up to $1,300.
"This job used to be more enticing, and we didn't have to do a lot of marketing," said Sheriff's Deputy Jessica Cline, the chief recruiter for the King County force. "Over time, it's become less attractive. We needed to do something."
But it is a competitive world out there among police recruiters. San Diego County, for instance, has already gone King County one better. "Put a star in your future - now offering a signing bonus of up to $5,000," goes the Web advertisement for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
In a generation's time, the job of an American police officer, previously among the most sought-after by people with little college background, has become one that in many communities now goes begging. Experts find that the life has little appeal among young people, and those who might be attracted to it are frequently lured instead by aggressive counteroffers from the military. The problem is compounded by better pay at entry-level jobs in the private sector, where employment opportunities have recently brightened.
The resulting shortage of new officers, says Elaine Deck, who tracks recruitment matters for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, is the top concern among issues facing law enforcement across the country. Nearly every police department at a recent statewide meeting in California reported being at least 10 percent short of the officers it needed. The Los Angeles Police Department has about 700 officers fewer than its full complement of 10,000, says Cmdr. Kenny Garner, who oversees recruiting there.
"When I started out in the 1970's, there were lines around the block of people waiting to take the police test, and I had to sleep overnight in an elementary school to get my place," Commander Garner said. "It's not an easy sell anymore."
Similarly, the test to join King County's ranks now draws only a small fraction of the 3,000 who used to take it.
In the face of developments like those, police agencies have tried a variety of enticements.
"Walk-ins accepted for immediate testing!" says an advertisement from the Los Angeles police force, which at one point sent recruiters to Florida to troll for prospective officers among college students lying on the beach during spring break.
There, Fort Lauderdale's come-on for police academy prospects says "no maximum age," along with "up to five weeks' vacation."
The New York Police Department recently placed advertisements in newspapers in and around Buffalo, part of a broad sweep to find recruits in the economically depressed upstate region.
Many cities have raised salaries well above the rate of inflation and are offering benefits like discount mortgages. Lexington, Ky., will give new officers up to $7,400 for a down payment on a home.
The Los Angeles police are offering $500 to any city employee who can bring in a police recruit who makes it through the academy, and another $500 if the prospect becomes a sworn officer. But the bonus, along with recruit inducements that include a retirement payment of $250,000 after 20 years in addition to a pension, has yet to turn the tide.
"We're trying to cook up some other things so we can get back in the game," Commander Garner said, in a bow to the competition.
The pay in most departments remains competitive with that in other jobs that do not necessarily require a college degree. A rookie officer in Los Angeles will start at $51,000 a year - certainly better than the starting salary for many teachers, of whom a degree is demanded. Police jobs also typically come with comfortable vacation, health care and retirement packages.
Further, most height and weight restrictions have been thrown out at major police departments, after lawsuits challenging them on grounds of gender and race. As for strength and stamina, a recruit in King County need be able to do only 30 situps in a minute and run a mile and a half in less than 14 minutes 31 seconds. "You don't have to be Superman," said Sheriff's Deputy Kurt Lange, a 14-year veteran of King County, where the vacation bonus has led deputies to start recruiting on their own, looking for friends, relatives or just casual acquaintances who might want to wear a badge.
But whatever the attractions to the job, a powerful constraint is working against them, experts say.
"The people we are now trying to recruit look at life and jobs in a very different way than baby boomers do," said Ms. Deck, of the police chiefs association. "People used to live to work. This younger generation works to live. Working late, working weekends, that's not attractive. They want to make money and retire early."
Then there is the competition from the armed services. At some military bases, commanders will not even allow police recruiters on the grounds, for fear that they will steal troops who might otherwise re-enlist, said Lt. Mike Barletta of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
King County has been sending recruiters to distant cities, where they scour job fairs, employment offices and even other police departments to find new people to wear the sheriff's uniform.
"We went to Houston, made a presentation after their roll call, spent eight days in the city, and at the end of it all we got was only one new officer out of it - and he didn't last," said Detective Robert Burrows, who does recruitment screening at the King County Sheriff's Office.
What proved to be a bidding war of sorts between King County and San Diego County broke out this year when the sheriff's office here bought radio advertisements and sent recruiters south. The selling point was that houses are cheaper in the Pacific Northwest than in Southern California.
"We sell the lifestyle, and the cost of living, less crime, the mountains," said Deputy Cline, the chief recruiter for King County. "And in turn, we're looking for diversity, for someone with good people skills, someone who can go from a missing-child call to a bar fight."
San Diego countered by describing the Seattle area as a damp, cold outpost far from the beaches of Southern California.
"We say, 'Would you rather live in Washington State, where it's gloomy and gray, or live here with the sunshine and beaches?' " Lieutenant Barletta said. "Our biggest obstacle is housing prices. Young people can't afford to buy a home here."
To help with housing costs, San Diego started a Cop Next Door program, arranging with certain lenders to offer discount home loans to officers willing to live in less desirable neighborhoods. But the program has yet to show much promise, Lieutenant Barletta said.
"We've got all the sunshine anyone could want," he said, "but not enough officers. It's been bad for some time, but it's getting worse."
* Copyright 2005The New York Times Company
We're seeing the same problem. Used to be hundreds of applicants, now it's much less. More and more applicants are people who have never been in a fight and have no conflict resolution skills. Many are just plain afraid to be on the street, and with nobody better waiting for the slot many departments end up keeping substandard officers. Those substandard officers end up becoming FTOs and training later crops of substandard recruits, which makes it even worse. I don't see it getting any better, since governments are trying to save money so hard. Many young folks see the opportunity to make more money for less work and risk in the private sector. The housing issue is also a big one- when an agency doesn't pay its officers well enough that they can live inside their jurisdiction, you have a problem. The programs to help officers buy homes are a joke- nobody wants to work all day in the 'hood arresting people and then go home to that same area, especially when they have kids who could be targeted by former 'clients'. Those programs are just an effort by the agencies to get more work out of their people.
I took the NYPD written exam and out of 45,000 applicants scored 00032, basicly I had the 32nd highest score out of the 45K that took it. I was called for the Pysc Exam 3 years later and was approved. 2 years after that later I took the physical portion and scored a 99.2. months later I was called to report for the Acadamy and be prepared to be sworn in, I would need to advise my present employer that day ( after being sworn in) that I would be leaving their employment with no advanced notice. There was a 50/50 chance that the city could also put the new class on hold with in 24 hours of being sworn in due to last minute budget cuts, or if other pressing financial issues came up. The city and NYPD would not be held responsible if this occured and would not back you for unemployment due to your not being on their books for more then 60-90 days.
At the time I was 23 years old, single, had my Batchelors Degree, was promoted to a regional sales manger with my company making 5 1/2 times the base salary (including my bonus)I would have with the PD, and had a nice company car to boot , I still wanted to be a police officer. I guess it was my Eagle Scout thoughts of wanting to help others and make a difference.
I go to get sworn in with the rest of the class. I decided to take two vacation days before hand so if the class did get stepped down I would still have a job to go back to. After waiting for 1.5 hours for the ceremony to begin, my name is called out along with about 30 others to report to one of the duty Sergents at the back of the auditorium. WHile I am waiting , I find out those names called have been found to have issues with there background checks and are on hold. I am then informed that when I took the wriiten exam I was two days short of my 17th birthday and that due to Civil Service regs my written exam was invalid and I was disqualifed, no exceptions. The guy just before me was asked why didn't he report that he had two prior misdermeanors on his record and was picked up as a juvenille for B&E when he was 15 years old. He made a quick explanation of his not reporting his past record and that he made a turnaround in his life, pointing out that " Hey I even got my GED". He was told he could be sworn in but, they would be investigating his background further. Like the Ads used to say "NYPD' we are looking for the finest"
When my brother was killed in the WTC 9/11 attacks I applied to the various Federal, State, and l Local LE Agencies looking for qualifed people. I was a VP of Sales and Marketing at this time making 4 1/2 times the amount I would have ...at top pay. Married with two young children I still wanted to make a difference. I was informed at 37 yrs of age I was too old, even to go into the military reserves.
I still have the utomst respect for those who are in LE....and the internal and external BS they deal with everyday.
Funny how I am flying out in on feb 3rd to test for seattle PD!
I wounder if its going to be the same!
I was hopping to get away from some polotics but i guess....
Maybe i'll stop by the SO, I was planning to anyway
To Be honest I hope that King county still has problems recruiting for about 12-18 months. Thats when my wife will be done with school (an RN) and I can leave the Phoenix PD and go to king county on a lateral transfer.
Phoenix is going to have a serious problem because the price of housing makes it impossible to own a home. 1300 SqF in an ok neighborhood for 350K!
Then our worthless union (a pox on them) negotiated a stunning 1.9% pay raise....... that doesn't even cover the cost of gas. Management is going to have a real shock in the next year or two when a lot of the officers retire/leave for better opportunities.
Long Island,NY where I am originally from is now running commercials stating that Mumicipal workers can no longer afford to live there. Although Nassau Cunty is one of the highest paid PD's in the Nation, and top pay for patrolmen after 5 years is almost 100K, a decent house will cost you 700 to 1 Million plus with taxes in an upwards of $17 to $21 K per year!. NYPD is even worse
starting salary is 25 K per year and top pay after 5 years is about 50-53 K with o/T about $60K. Housing is about 25% less but the city schools and crime are much worse.