LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - For the better part of two years, the Little Rock Police Department has had more than 60 openings on their police force. They have been trying to get in front of the problem, but have had little luck. Now they are hoping some new incentives will help fill the openings.
Recruiting officers to join the police force in Little Rock hasn't always been a problem. Throughout the 80's and 90's detective Greg Siegler said the queue to join was so big, sometimes they had to turn people away.
“Everybody wanted to be the police back then and there was always a lot of people applying for the jobs back then,” he recalled.
But fast forward to the last five years and a lot has change for police in the capital city. Officer Holly Wiggs said when she first joined her friends thought she was crazy.
"When I first joined a lot of controversy was going on and not a lot of people wanted this job or wanted to sign on,” Wiggs admitted.
Right now, the department is short 67 officers and Siegler chalks up that shortage to the public perception of officers. In the past few years, officers have been dealing with the blow back of several officer involved shootings that have called into question police training and continued the push for body cameras.
“Basically [it's] because of the way things are on the nation right now. People don't respect the police like they used to," Siegler said, offering his opinions on the shortage.
Sergeant Van Thomas thinks social media plays a role in the shortage, saying that "the public doesn't see everything that happens in a situation and we get judged off of a short clip.” But while the dangers they face adds to the problem of hiring, Van Thomas argued there is no safe occupation.
“You could be a night clerk and somebody could walk up on the street right now and do something to you, at least I feel like I have the adequate training to have a fighting chance," he said. "I have the fighting chance to not just take care of myself when I am in uniform but also to take care of my family outside of uniform.”
Some officers joined for the love of the job and some joined for a guaranteed income, but the life or death situation these officers face has now become a task a lot of people can't justify signing up for.
In 2016, the department started offering more incentives which included raising the salary and they now offer a $5,000 signing bonus. Then in 2017, another incentive was added.
"City employees can direct people to the police department and if they start the process, each city employee will get $500 for bringing people to the table,” said Lieutenant Steve McClanahan.
He wants the public to know being a police officer offers room for advancement and has several different areas to work in.
“Three years from the day you sign on you could be a homicide detective, you could ride a motorcycle, or you could work on our helicopter unit, there’s a whole lot of option here,” he said.
While it's true being an officer is a tough job, all of the officers agree that the reward comes from knowing they are protecting the city.
“Knowing what I know, I would definitely do it again," Siegler said. "It's a good career, I mean you're not going to get rich, but you do good things and you help people, that's the main thing.”
Wiggs said seeing the difference she has made for countless people has made the job worth every penny.
“I can't speak for anyone else but just to see the difference you make in the community is the best. I took an oath for this job and because of that I'm going to live and die for it,” she said.