Police career not easy to sell

County redoubles recruiting effort in competitive market

September 23, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel police Cpl. Elinor Foote has a firm handshake and a big smile for job candidates. But she's competing against recruiters from federal agencies, larger police departments and huge corporations. A few of them even offer signing bonuses.

She gives out pencils and candy.

Foote appeals to job candidates' sense of honor, duty to their community and desire to help people. She plays up a benefits package that includes a pension second to none. And she highlights the excitement of police work - none of that 9-to-5 desk work every day.

But in the end, there's no masking the facts: For the privilege of being a public servant, police officers receive a paycheck that requires many to work second jobs to support their families.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Anne Arundel edition incorrectly stated the proposed policy of county police commanders, who are considering accepting lateral transfers from other departments. The transferring officers would not retain their ranks.
The Sun regrets the error.

The hours are erratic.

And statistics show that more than half of all police officers will at some point face a gunman, or be stabbed or punched, or at the very least have heart problems.

It's no wonder Anne Arundel County police - like thousands of law enforcement agencies - are having trouble hiring officers.

It's a tough sell.

The county's hiring difficulties mirror problems that jurisdictions across the United States are having finding police officers, deputy sheriffs, correctional officers and probation officers, statistics show.

"We're not the only ones," Foote said. "We're all looking. It's a small pool to pull from. There's a lot of competition."

But county police officials are being creative and tenacious.

With the force short nearly 40 officers in a department of about 600, county police officials have redoubled their recruitment efforts. They've designed an employment poster, are running classified ads and have a cable television commercial in production. It's not unusual for Foote to attend five job fairs in a month.

"We're doing a lot to sell ourselves," said Lt. Joseph E. Jordan, a county police spokesman.

Transfers suggested

Police commanders are also considering accepting lateral transfers from other police departments - with officers keeping their benefits and rank - at the urging of the Fraternal Order of Police, which met with County Executive Janet S. Owens and other county officials this summer.

Deputy Police Chief Emerson C. Davis said the county has accepted transfers from other jurisdictions in the past and might soon accept them again.

"These officers are already trained," said former FOP President Paul Ingley. "They need a short course on county rules and regulations, and they're on the street."

A new recruit spends about six months in the police academy.

Late this summer, 17 recruits graduated from the academy, and more than 20 started training this month.

Police officials say the shortage of officers hasn't affected emergency service. The department's average response time to top-priority 911 calls is less than four minutes, according to Officer Charles Ravenell, a county police spokesman. It's less than 10 minutes for most 911 calls, he said.

Still, the shortage often leaves commanders with difficult decisions to make - whether to leave a vacancy on a community police team or in a school or to ask officers to work overtime to fill shifts.

Recruiting at churches

This year, the department sent recruitment packages to all 452 churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in the county - hoping to get free advertising in weekly bulletins and from the pulpits.

Because clergy "are community-oriented," Foote said, "they're able to reach out to young people, middle-aged people wanting a career change, and to people who might not have thought about a career in law enforcement."

While asking churches and synagogues to place recruitment brochures and applications on display tables, police have also made crime-prevention materials available to them.

"It helps us get the crime prevention information and recruitment information out at the same time," Foote said.

Working with local NAACP and Hispanic leaders, Foote is targeting what the department lacks most: minorities and women. She also tries to recruit women at job fairs, such as those held by the YWCA.

Job fairs

On Wednesday, the county staged its first minority recruitment open house at Anne Arundel Community College.

"It went really well," Foote said. "So we're going to do it again."

County police will be recruiting at job fairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore Oct. 3; University of Maryland, College Park Oct. 4; University of Maryland Eastern Shore Oct. 11; and Coppin State College Oct. 12.

A job fair sponsored by the Annapolis Church of God at Annapolis Middle School has been scheduled for Oct. 13 from noon to 4 p.m.

Applications and information are available by calling county police at 410-222-8672 or on the Internet at www.aacopd.org.

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