Local police agencies find it difficult to recruit, hire new police officers, calling it a crisis

Posted at 11:31 PM, Sep 16, 2016

Police officers have a difficult job under the best of circumstances and these are far from the best of times with police shootings and recent attacks on officers. 

The difficult climate nationally makes it even tougher to bring new people into the profession, according to local law enforcement officials 7 Action News spoke with this week.

Protests in several American cities followed police shootings of unarmed black men. Those demonstrations, in some cases, turned violent and destructive.

Played out on national media, the protests served to amp up tensions that already exist between officers and people in some of the communities in which they serve.

This current climate impacts police everywhere. It is one of a number of factors making it even more difficult now for local law enforcement to attract people to hundreds of job openings.

"It makes people think twice about whether I want to be a police officer or not and the pay has decreased and the benefits have decreased," said Chuck Pappas, who has spent 41 years in law enforcement. Pappas is the director of recruiting for the Wayne County Sheriff's office.

"Being able to have pride in one's profession is key and that seems to be diminished right now, given some of the things going on nationally," said Eric Keiser, the deputy police chief in Eastpointe.

Eastpointe has four open positions for officers right now.

"Back in the early 90's when I was applying places, there would be 500 applicants for one position," Keiser says. 

Now he says he is finding few interested in the job.

"Many places like Eastpointe, to attract good candidates, we've actually raised the starting pay and we still can't get people," said Keiser.

The starting salary for police officers in Eastpointe is now $50,000 a year.

Nearby Roseville also recently increased starting pay for officers, but Chief James Berlin is having the same difficulty filling open positions. He has eight right now.

"I think we are," Berlin said when asked if local agencies are approaching a crisis situation in hiring. 

While the Michigan State Police and Detroit Police operate their own academies and pay the cost of recruit training, local agencies, for the most part, do not. They say they can't afford it.

Tuition for the 16-week police academy is roughly $6,000, according to Berlin.

"The state's got to help step in here and assist getting some of these kids through the police academy or college, grants or whatever," said Berlin.

The situation is putting public safety at risk in Berlin's opinion. The concern is not limited to suburban police departments either. 

The Wayne County Sheriff's Office is looking to fill 124 open positions in the three jails it operates. The entry level positions can lead to careers in law enforcement.

"We are aggressively recruiting," said Pappas, who regularly attends job fairs and travels extensively to recruit candidates. 

"We will hire you at 18, high school diploma, GED, US Citizen, good driving record, no felony convictions and you must be eligible to obtain a concealed pistol license permit from the state," Pappas said in detailing the requirements for the positions. 

According to data from the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, Michigan is down some 4,000 police officers since 2001.

And right now, more than 100 agencies are listing open positions on their web site alone.

The Sterling Heights Police Department has one open position now, but 17 officers are expected to retire by next June and Captain Dave Smith told 7 Action News they are looking desperately for new officers as well. 

"It's not an easy job," said Berlin. "It takes a very special individual and if we don't get those individuals, I don't know what shape our society is going to take." 

And he added this prediction: "If things don't change it's going to be a major crisis nationwide."