Full roster ‘a constant battle’ for police

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

It can be tough to find police officers these days.

Nationwide, police departments are finding it challenging to keep a full roster of officers. Departments in Dubois County are also dealing with the challenge.

“It’s been a constant battle,” Huntingburg Police Chief Art Parks said. “With us, the challenge is that people have left. And we don’t get as many applicants as we used to get.”

Just this year, Parks has seen four officers leave. One went to the Ferdinand Police Department. One joined the Dubois County Sheriff’s Office. He lost one officer to the Indiana State Police. And another officer resigned and moved to Florida.

Parks knows the appeal of other departments is strong. “The county pays about the same, but officers have a car they can take anywhere in the county,” he said. “State police officers make a lot more money, and they have a car they can take anywhere in the state. Our officers must keep vehicles within the city or 2-mile jurisdiction.”

As a result, he has lost several good officers to other departments. “It’s like we’ve become a training ground for like Jasper or county or state police,” Parks said.

The Jasper Police Department hasn’t had as much turnover in recent years, though it is now looking to fill one position and will have to repeat the process in September. Both are due to retirements.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate here,” Jasper Police Chief Nathan Schmitt said.

He admits that officers from other departments do apply, which appeals to the department.

“They’re attractive to us because they are trained already,” Schmitt said. “Anytime you can get a good applicant who has already gone through the police academy, it’s less time to get them trained and on the road.”

But the Jasper department has also lost a person or two to another department.

“We had an applicant last year, when we’re trying to hire two guys,” Schmitt said. “A week before he was going to be sworn in, we found out that he had taken a position with [the] Morgan County Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “And I just got an inquiry from the Indianapolis Police Department about him, because has applied for a position there.”

Drawing in applicants has also been challenging, Parks and Schmitt said.

“The jobs are a lot more available than when I applied,” Schmitt said. “We’re running this current (application) process, and we’re down to six applicants. We started with 19 applicants. When I first applied (for a job), there was like 70 people that showed up.”

Parks said the number of people who apply has decreased drastically. When working to fill two positions earlier this year, he had 22 applicants; this second round for the other two positions, he had 19 people apply. And the majority of those did not make it through the agility testing to get to the interview process.

“When I started back in the 90s — that’s when the cops show ‘Bad Boys’ was on TV — it was nothing to have 40 to 60 applications on your desk,” Parks said. “Nowadays, with all the publicity police officers are getting and all the stuff that is going on in the world, I don’t think people want that headache.

“It’s not a profession people want as much anymore.”

Dubois County Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter said he is fortunate to have a supply of applicants on hand: his jailers.

“It’s easier for me to hire from my jail staff, because they’ve been here for a year or two,” he said. “We know what we’re getting. We just have to send them to the academy. We don’t have as big of an issue as the city departments do."

Kleinhelter has two new deputies currently going through the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.

“But they came from our jailers,” he said. “There is a lot less training after the academy, because they already know the policies and procedures of our agency.”

Replacing the jailers is an easier process than replacing deputies. “We go through a normal hiring for a jail officer,” Kleinhelter said, “and the person has to go through jailer school, which is only one week, within the first year of employment.”

With the two new deputies, the sheriff office’s will be full with 21 officers, including Kleinhelter, and 21 jailers.

Once an officer is hired, it takes many more months to get them trained so that they can go on patrol.

Schmitt said the hiring takes six to eight months for his officers.

“And then if the person doesn’t have the academy (training), which none of the six people left in the current process has, they will have to go through that,” he said. “So it’s nine months to a year after they’ve been hired to where they’re actually patrolling by themselves and serving the citizens.”

Huntingburg has hired two officers — a former Warrick County jailer who will go to the law enforcement academy in September, and a former Dale Police officer who came with a K-9. And just this month, they’ve made conditional offers of employment to a former Owensboro Police Department officer and a man who used to be a Martin County Sheriff’s Department deputy.

“He had already resigned and was working at MasterBrand, because he could make more money there,” Parks said.

After the two newest officers are sworn in, which Parks hopes will be next month, Huntingburg’s roster will be full with 14 officers.

But not every officer will work in their position yet. One officer will complete the academy in September, and another will start the academy in September; she will be done in December.

“We won’t be back up to full capacity until next year,” Parks said.

Jasper is allotted 25 officers on its police force, including Schmitt. With the recent retirement, Schmitt has 24 officers. But one of those officers is at the law academy, so there are 23 officers on the road.

“It’s a constant battle to stay full staff,” he said. “It’s so hard to stay up.”




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