LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - While Little Rock struggles to hire police officers, recruiters from out of town are coming, looking to hire for themselves.
The Memphis Police Department will hold a recruitment event in Little Rock on July 5, and some people in the community are worried about it.
“We’re already hurting for more staff, ourselves, and they’re gonna come in our town to do that? Oh, boy,” Sharon Carrington exclaimed when asked about it Monday evening.
While Carrington may have been shocked to hear that MPD would travel to Little Rock to recruit, Lt. Steven McClanahan of the Little Rock Police Department was not surprised.
“We’ve recently tried to step up our recruiting, because we are very short,” said Lt. McClanahan, a spokesman for the department. “We’ve seen this trend nationwide.”
LRPD still has 67 spots it wants to fill. Hiring has been difficult due in part to the many national incidents that have hurt the reputation of law enforcement. LRPD competes with other local agencies for officers, but Lt. McClanahan said it has also traveled to job fairs in Tennessee, Texas, and Louisiana in search of candidates.
“Oftentimes we are competing for the same people, for the same pot,” he mentioned. “And again, when you have to do a polygraph test, you have to have no felony convictions, you have to pass a physical test, as well as a mental test, the standards are tough.”
It is easy for people like Deborah Jones to see that a good candidate has options if he or she wants to get into law enforcement.
“I like opportunities, don’t you,” she asked. “If you give me a good benefit package, like they do in the corporate world or the political world, then yes, I’m gonna make that move.”
To keep other cities from dipping into LRPD’s candidate pool, Jones and Carrington agreed that the city needs to pay police officers more.
“That’s a high-stress job, and they’re dealing with life and death all the time, for the safety of other people, and themselves, too,” Carrington explained.
Jones mentioned that some officers could become dispirited by the fact that rookies receive incentives for entering and graduating from the training academy.
“I think it would build up the momentum in their mind. When they come to work, they’re happy to be there,” she said. “Not that they’re not, but, you know, a little incentive will go a long way.”
Neither Jones nor Carrington had an opinion about whether raising taxes or cutting from another part of the city’s budget would be the best way to pay for salary increases, but they each said it should be a priority.
“If the opportunity’s bigger, I’m not going to be mad if somebody decides to take a job in Memphis, or Dallas, or whatever,” Jones stated. “We’ve just got to up the ante. We’ve got to do better in offering our police officers more of an incentive. It makes a difference, in their whole morale and everything, that they are appreciated.”
The City of Little Rock offers $5,000 to new recruits; half upon acceptance to the training academy, and half upon graduation. It also offers city employees $500 for referring a candidate into the department. Lt. McClanahan said the number of applications to the department has risen since those incentives were announced, but it is too soon to know how much impact they will have on staffing.
Lt. McClanahan said the Little Rock Police Department is focusing more energy on younger candidates, hoping to attract them to the department before other agencies can entice them.
“We’re going to all of our campuses, our college campuses: UAPB in Pine Bluff, we have Henderson State in Arkadelphia, Ouachita. We’re trying to make a very big emphasis on our colleges here in the state.”
A recruiting officer for the Memphis Police Department said it had not settled on a location yet for its recruitment event, though it would likely be in a downtown hotel ballroom. MPD has come to Arkansas in the past for career fairs, but this will be its first stand-alone event in the state. Its recruiters have gone as far as Texas, Illinois, and Virginia for hiring events. While the Little Rock Police Department has 520 sworn officers, the Memphis Police Department has 2,450.