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Lodi, Galt police face challenges in recruiting

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Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 12:00 am

There are many requirements to be a police officer, and when potential candidates don’t live up to a department’s standards, the process to keep a police force fully staffed can be difficult.

Vice Mayor Larry Hansen has raised concerns at recent Lodi City Council meetings that the Lodi Police Department currently isn’t at full staff.

However, department representatives have explained to the council that recruiting qualified candidates is not as easy as it looks.

“There are very stringent requirements to become a police officer,” Lt. Sierra Brucia told the News-Sentinel. “It’s difficult to find people who can pass a background check. And each department has its own training program, and applicants have to pass those as well.”

During a background check, Brucia said the department will look at a candidate’s personal relationship with neighbors or family to see how they interact with people, as well as look at their decision-making skills. Brucia said those are key skills needed when an officer is in the field.

Candidates are also screened for poor work history, as well as poor credit history and any drug or alcohol problems, and a candidate’s criminal history must be considered, as well.

“If someone is convicted of a felony, or even if they have a restraining order against them, they can’t carry a gun and we can’t hire them,” Brucia said. “How can we put a person in that type of job?”

The department’s training program involves four phases of 28-day cycles in which candidates are given written and verbal tests, supervised in the field and given additional firearm and emergency training, among other exercises.

Brucia said the entire recruitment process takes anywhere from six months to a year.

If cadets coming out of local police academies — like the one at San Joaquin Delta College — don’t qualify to be on the Lodi force, Brucia said, the department must look at other academies, which can add to recruitment time as background checks must be conducted in a candidates’ hometown or current place of residence.

He said that apart from Delta College’s, the closest academy is in Sacramento, but the department has been known to recruit from those in the Bay Area, Butte County, Southern California and even out of state.

Brucia said the department tries to recruit local candidates as often as possible to shorten the time it takes to perform background checks.

“Each candidate is different, and each evaluation process we conduct is different,” he said.

The lengthy background check process can sometimes leave the department short-staffed as well, Brucia said, as officers must travel out of the area to conduct the checks.

The department currently has 67 sworn officers and is conducting four background checks on prospective employees. If all four are hired, the department will be fully staffed.

Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms told the city council at its Dec. 18, 2013, meeting that two of the candidates are transfers from other agencies.

While the Lodi department will be fully staffed if the new officers pass background checks and are hired, Helms said in December the department is expecting another retirement this year.

“We struggle to fill these vacancies with quality people,” he said in December. “(The hiring process) is time consuming, and we want to hire the best people for this job. Agencies are just coming out of a recession, so we’re competing with other police departments for the same people.”

Galt in same boat

Galt Police Chief William Bowen said his department faces the same difficulty when recruiting new officers.

And a potential recruit can drop out of the background screening for a variety of reasons, he said.

Like the Lodi Police Department, Galt’s department makes sure a candidate has the physical agility and mental or psychological capability to be a police officer. In addition, a candidate must be adept at report writing and pass a polygraph test, among other requirements.

“Typically a recruit drops out because of choices made earlier in their career or life that come to light during any aspect of the background check process,” Bowen said.

Galt currently has 35 officers on its roster, and can have a maximum of 38.

Bowen said roster maximums are typically determined by a city’s budget and how much it can afford to spend on its police force.

However, other factors such as population, officer safety and criminal activity in a city can determine how many officers a department can have.

Bowen said for a city like Galt, there are typically 1.2 officers for every 1,000 residents. However, in some cities on the east coast, it is typical to see 2.5 officers for every 1,000 residents, he said.

In addition, Bowen said there are many times when officers are lured to larger cities, where police departments can offer larger salaries, more benefits and a better retirement plan. He said some cities may even offer signing bonuses.

“We’re competing with all these other, larger agencies,” he said. “You have cities like Sacramento, Stockton — all these larger cities — taking a larger group of people because they might offer more money or better benefits.”

More graduates hired

While departments such as Lodi sometimes have difficulty recruiting new officers, police academies like Delta College’s are seeing an increase in the number of cadets landing jobs.

David Main, chief of police at San Joaquin Delta College and director of the Delta College Basic Peace Officer Academy, said he has seen an increase in the need for officers over the years.

He said more than 50 percent of the 2013 graduating class at the academy — which had about 70 cadets — have been hired as police officers.

The previous year saw about 50 percent of the academy’s graduates land jobs, while the year before that saw “an extremely” low hiring rate.

Main attributes the increase to changes in the economy.

“Agencies weren’t hiring a few years ago,” he said. “Now we are seeing agencies not only hire officers for vacant positions, but they are adding positions back that they cut when the economy was down.”

Of the 2013 cadets hired, Main said about 11 were recruited by the Stockton Police Department.

Some were recruited by the sheriff’s departments in San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties, while others were recruited by the Lodi Police Department.

The academy, certified by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, meets Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 5:45 to 10 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as on some Fridays.

The course includes basic procedures and aspects of law enforcement, including: criminal law, patrol procedures, investigative procedures, report writing, defensive tactics, firearms, police vehicle operations, traffic enforcement, accident investigation, handling emotional situations and first aid/CPR. The course also includes a challenging physical requirement that will prepare students for police service, according to the academy website.

An academy session lasts about eight months from January through August. Main said this format is called an “extended” format.

However, he said hirings have increased so much that he is starting a full-time day academy this fall, with room for about 70 students.

Contact reporter Wes Bowers at wesb@lodinews.com.

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