The Palm Springs Police Department has been struggling to bring experienced officers to the department for nearly a year. In a Facebook post the agency announced they would be adding a $30,000 incentive to attract officers and to supplement some of the challenges they've had in filling vacant positions.
A portion of the department's post read: "For nearly a year, the department has had six vacant and five frozen positions and has had multiple officers out with long-term injuries, according to Chief of Police Bryan Reyes, who noted that like most California law enforcement agencies, the Palm Springs Police Department has been 'struggling when it comes to attracting experienced officers.'"
"The more you have to work, we have to put our officers out there, the less time off they get, the less time they see their families, the more sick calls that we start getting, the more we start seeing injuries or stress-related factors, so having a well-staffed police department and having everybody healthy is absolutely critical to our operation," said Lt. William Hutchinson with Palm Springs Police.
The operation is seeking more personnel to bridge the hiring shortfall, but Lt. Hutchinson said there is a much heavier focus on acquiring experienced officers.
"We’re right now about 25 officers down out of a 100-officer department. That’s a significant portion of our force and that heavily impacts our ability to have an impact on crime reduction strategies," Lt. Hutchinson said.
The price tag of onboarding a beginning candidate, which includes going through the academy, costs the department roughly $50,000, and takes them about a year and a half to be able to fully work on their own, according to Lt. Hutchinson. The incentive turns out to be a cost-effective measure for experienced applicants, saving the department roughly $20,000 and cutting the time it takes to get a person into the field.
"An experienced officer-- once we hire them-- it takes about four months to get them out on their own," Lt. Hutchinson said.
While there have been six vacant openings and five frozen positions, the city manager of Palm Springs, Justin Clifton, said that could change if they start to receive qualified applicants.
"If we get a number of applicants to fill the ones that are available the first thing we’ll do is unfreeze the others so those positions are also available," Clifton said.
The city budget is in a much better place than it was during the height of the pandemic, when positions had to be cut citywide, according to Clifton.
"Now that we’re starting to recover we're starting to look more broadly at the team and ask the question, 'Where do we need to invest?' And our police department Is one of the obvious choices. It’s important to the community, and again we don’t want to just be status quo, we really want to make sure that we’re not competing for officers and support staff, but that we’re able to pick the best among them," Clifton said.
But there have been several challenges along the way-- how to entice officers that may not want to work in 115 degrees, or those who may consider agencies with higher pay.
"If a brand new police officer, for example up north, in a Northern California agency can make $182,000 a year versus a Palm Springs Police officer of $113,000 a year. Again, you’re going to weigh out the vast differences there," Lt. Hutchinson said.
The Palm Springs Police Department is not limited when it comes to applicant hesitation in joining the force. Law enforcement agencies nationwide have faced intense scrutiny following the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of a former Minneapolis police officer. The incident sparked protests across the country and calls for police reform.
Among the many selling points PSPD has presented to recruit officers, a competitive benefits package, a force that's inclusive, and one that is supported by the community are all among the pro's department officials said applicants should consider.
"We don’t have a community where you’re constantly going from call to call to call that is all violence all night long and your’e exhausted. You can come here and actually take time as a police officer to build partnerships and collaborations with the community and really get to know the community," Lt. Hutchinson said.
The agency is working out the details, but they expect a qualified candidate to work with the department for a total of two years to receive the full incentive money.
"We get to tout when people come here they don’t leave. We get to tout the culture and the environment, the positive environment of the Palm Springs Police Department and of the community as a whole," Lt. Hutchinson said.