STERLING – It’s been more than 20 years since Sterling Police Department had a full roster of officers.
Recent hires Mary Toth, Mackenzie Barnhart, Alexander Kraus and Travis Ganther have ended that streak: They bring the department’s patrol division to a full complement of 20 officers, Chief Tim Morgan said.
Considering police departments throughout the country are struggling to meet staffing needs, it’s a real accomplishment that his department finally found enough quality officers to fill the department’s vacancies, Morgan said.
In April, he told City Council members that SPD, which already was understaffed at the time, would be losing two employees, bringing the patrol division to 16 officers.
With only 16, “you’re essentially operating about 25 percent less man or women power than it should be,” Morgan said. “Just think about how that affects your ability to perform your duties.”
Finding new recruits from Sterling – like Toth and Barnhart – is ideal, Morgan said.
There’s an effort to grow native officers through the Explorers Program, which gives 14- to 21-year-olds a taste of police work as they train with on-duty officers – and that helps, but he’s needed to cast a larger net to find quality candidates.
“The pool of quality personnel to hire for the job has diminished or shrunken quite a bit,” he said.
Police departments throughout the country have had to adapt to a changing culture, which has caused some departments to relax candidate requirements, while others have lowered their educational requirements and may even consider someone who has a drug conviction.
Sterling hasn’t lowered it requirements, but it’s needed to get creative, Morgan said.
Back in 1993 when Morgan tested for an officer position, there were 103 people vying for a single vacant position, he said.
“Now we’re happy if we get 20 people to show up to take the test.”
Plus, it costs the city $30,000 to $40,000 to hire and train a new officer, and with that kind of investment, retention is key, he said.
The new officers will be on their own once they complete on-the-job training in November, and Morgan said he plans to increase staffing from three to five officers a shift – with the added bonus of reducing the burnout his officers may be experiencing from all the calls they chase and the subsequent daily paperwork.
“Everything is going great. Being fully staffed was one of the goals I wanted to tackle when I became chief [in 2016],” he said.
“Now that’s its come to fruition, I just hope it stays that way for a while.”
EXPLORE THE EXPLORERS
The Sterling Police Department Explorers Post 613 is a hands-on program for teens and young adults interested in a career in law enforcement.
Explorers learn the fundamentals of law enforcement firsthand from department personnel. Among other things, they learn defensive tactics, help with parades, do ride-a-longs, tour the jail, and engage in tactical training with “sims” guns.
The program is open to those ages 14 to 20, with no criminal background and who have graduated eighth grade and/or will be turning 21 after they complete the program.
For more information, call school resource officer Anthony Adamson at 815-632-6640.