Police department struggles to fill openings

Police department struggles to fill openings

Cassie Paton

When Police Chief Paul Rolleri was hired as an officer for the Alameda Police Department, in 1992, he competed with nearly 500 other test takers for the same job.

“It was almost like winning the lottery if you got in,” Rolleri said.

Today, though, he might only see 100 to 125 applications come across his desk – and not all of those are from qualified people, he said.

The department has advertised open police officer positions for months, and Rolleri said the department hasn't been fully staffed for five years.

The department’s $30 million budget authorizes the force to employ no more than 88 sworn officers. Ideally, Rolleri said he’d like to have around 92 officers, but the force currently falls short even of its authorized 88, with four vacancies, not including those out on disability.

Rolleri said finding qualified candidates is a “constant struggle.” The strain on the department is made more pressing by the number of officers who are out on disability and up for retirement at the end of the year.

It’s a problem with no clear explanation, though Rolleri attributed the department’s hiring challenge to a number of factors, including a booming economy with low unemployment, bad press swirling around police nationwide and limited funds for advertising open positions.

These dramatically lower numbers are not unique to the Alameda Police Department. Oakland and San Leandro have had similar challenges filling vacancies, Rolleri said - Oakland has long had a banner advertising open police jobs along the freeway - meaning the competition between departments to nab qualified candidates is stiff.

Lateral officers are the most desirable and most difficult to hire, he said – they’ve already been trained in the police academy and have experience on another police force, meaning they’d only need three to four months of internal field training in Alameda before going on patrol here. But scouting in neighboring departments isn’t an option to Rolleri.

“I wouldn’t (recruit) in my backyard,” he said. “It’s an unspoken rule that you don’t go into a neighbor’s department and try to get their officers, because you wouldn’t want them stealing yours.”

That means the department would need to seek lateral hires farther out or, more likely, to attract new recruits or academy grads who may be considering jobs with other nearby forces. Academy grads already have seven months of training, usually on their own dime, but new recruits take a lot more time – and money – to prepare for patrol. They must pass a background check, successfully complete the police academy and do a few months of field training before hitting the streets with a badge. All in all, that takes about 10 months from the time the chief of police says “you’re hired.”

“And that’s assuming there are no blips in the radar along the way,” Rolleri said.

If a new recruit makes it halfway through that process and something goes wrong, they have to go all the way back to square one. “That’s been an issue for us in the past,” he said.

Even with the vacancies, Rolleri said Alameda is patrolled just as heavily as it would be if it were fully staffed. But officers do work overtime more frequently than in years past. It’s up to Rolleri to balance that across the force and keep morale up as the department evaluates its marketing, scouting and recruiting tactics.

“Everyone here is a team player and will pitch in when it’s needed,” Rolleri said. “But you don’t want to burn them out.”

Comments

Submitted by Mike on Thu, Aug 20, 2015

100 to 125 applicants are about what you see on LinkedIn for choice jobs in other fields. So, not so clear on why that isn't enough.

How many other fields have starting salaries at that wage and benefits for a limited education?

On this statement:

“I wouldn’t (recruit) in my backyard,” he said. “It’s an unspoken rule that you don’t go into a neighbor’s department and try to get their officers, because you wouldn’t want them stealing yours.”

The chief may want to familiarize himself with the case of High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation, where it was alleged that companies in Silicon Valley wouldn't properly compete for employees:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_Litigation

That "unspoken rule" seems problematic on many levels, certainly it's results for Alameda have not been great as the chief notes.

Finally, I have to say that I hear this like more case-making about higher pay and benefits needed for emergency personnel, which is swallowing the vast and increasing majority of Alameda's resources. Just look at the roads in this town. Shameful.

Submitted by David on Sat, Aug 22, 2015

The high tech no-poaching litigation was over explicit, spoken, no-poaching agreements. Rolleri is talking about something different - an unspoken rule.