Monday, April 10, 2006

Recruiting cops a major task for departments

From Daily Republic
By Audrey Wong

FAIRFIELD - Frank Mihelich is a Fairfield police sergeant, but he also does marketing. What he's trying to market is his police force.

Like other police departments across the country, Fairfield faces the challenge of keeping the agency well-staffed in the face of cop shortages. Neighboring Suisun City police reached its authorized staffing of 22 officers and hope the City Council will approve two additional positions, said Suisun City Police Lt. Ed Dadisho.

But both departments are working on incentives to make their agencies more inviting to recruits.

And both agencies want to be able to attract numerous recruits without sacrificing standards.

According to a report in the Washington Post, more than 80 percent of the nation's 17,000 law enforcement agencies, big and small, have vacancies that many can't fill. And as police forces dwindle across the state, the population grows, Mihelich said. Police departments tend to hire in batches, as a result police officers retire in batches, he said. Fairfield lost officers to retirement and occasionally an officer doesn't pass training, he said.

Across the state there are 63,000 full-time officers, Mihelich said. Out of that, 8,600 are older than 50, 9,000 will be 50 in the next five years and 18,000 officers may retire in the next five years, Mihelich said.Fairfield has 134 police officer positions and is currently at 115 officers, Mihelich said. The department receives hundreds of applicants but they are quickly whittled to a handful during the process.

"There are a lot of steps to selecting an officer," Dadisho said. "You might have 100 people apply then have one or two candidates."

Departments look for qualities such as age, life and work experience, Dadisho said. Police seek people with clean criminal records and relevant life experience among other things, Dadisho said.

Applicants must take written and oral tests. Then they undergo a background check followed by a psychological test. Police supervisors examine applicants for their morals, impulse control, risk-taking work habits, intellectual abilities and communication skills, among other factors.

Because the background check can take weeks, departments prefer hiring veteran officers from other agencies. Those officers already passed background checks and are faster to train, Dadisho said. They also have more life experience compared to younger people just out of school.

The Fairfield Police Department has hired a number of officers from other departments - generally Solano County residents who worked outside of the county and were tired of commuting. The department is currently conducting a background check on a Vacaville resident who works in San Mateo, Mihelich said.

Fairfield police are looking to sweeten the pot for veteran officers with such things as signing bonuses. They also offer to accelerate the hiring process so candidates don't have to wait as long to get a job. Dadisho is working on creating a work week of three 12-hour shifts followed by four days off, among other things.

According to a survey, about 50 percent of people who want to work in law enforcement make that decision in high school, Mihelich said. So Mihelich is speaking to high school students.

There's also a generation gap. Many baby boomers are happy to have jobs but often members of Generation X first ask how much police work pays and when they get time off, Mihelich said.
"I guess (young people) want some good balance in life," Mihelich said. "We were work, work, work, at our job."

The younger generation also has more mistrust of government and is more business-oriented. Mihelich also deals with a misconception that police work is non-stop excitement like on television or video games.

"They want action, good pay and lots of vacation time," Mihelich said. "There are guys that say they want to work with the K-9 . . . they don't think about the dog hair on their clothes or that the car will smell like a dog, they will have to clean the dog and go to training."

Fairfield police are working on their Web site to attract tech-savvy youngsters. An advantage for Fairfield police is that Solano County still has housing prices lower than the rest of the Bay Area, Mihelich said.

A small department like Suisun City has much to offer officers. While Suisun City may not have specialized units such as narcotics, officers in Suisun City get to experience all aspects of police work, Dadisho said.

"They can be the responding officer, write the report, conduct the investigation and follow the case through conviction," Dadisho said.

Reach Audrey Wong at 427-6951 or

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