More women and more college degrees.
That’s the wish list for local police departments that are slowly replenishing their ranks after years of hiring freezes and budget problems.
As Orange County law-enforcement agencies begin to fill positions left vacant by attrition, officials said they are reaching out to more females and recruits with college educations. Officials hope to more closely mirror their communities in a field historically perceived blue-collar and dominated by men.
For recruiters, it means contacting people that, in the past, may not have considered a law enforcement career. Departments are attending more career fairs on college campuses, talking to more women and gradually changing the face of their rank and file.
“It’s amazing, some of the people that come into the system,” said Lt. Mike Peters of the sheriff’s training division.
About three-quarters of deputy sheriff trainees have a bachelor’s degree, Peters said and some recruits have master’s degrees.
Most departments require only a high school education, but demand and competition today has upped the ante.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department is the largest law enforcement agency in O.C. and requires plenty of new hires just to keep up with attrition. It is now one of the few agencies actively seeking recruits.
Every month, department officials said, they receive more than 900 applications, and it has assigned two full-time recruiters to hunt down candidates who will not just meet written and physical standards, but exceed them.
Law enforcement officials said they have officially not raised their standards, yet with hundreds of applications coming in, they’ve had no problem getting highly qualified applicants.
“Right now there’s a push for quality applicants in all agencies,” said Deputy Nate Beyer, one of two deputies now primarily assigned to recruiting.
WOMEN IN UNIFORM
Kirstyn Ellis sprinted toward the 20-foot rope with her classmates at the sheriff’s Regional Training Facility, then dashed left, right and through a series of obstacles before leaping over a six-foot wall.
The deputy Sheriff trainee worked retail for several years and took college courses, but she said she wanted a career in law enforcement. “It’s something I always wanted to do,” she said.
Her father works in the department, so the demands of the job are no surprise. She has also had plenty of company in the academy, with more than a dozen other women in the class of about 50 recruits.
Her goal is to work in the K-9 unit.
Classes that used to have five women now have average 15, said Marta Sneddon, who has worked as exercise physiologist at the academy for about 30 years, helping recruits get into shape.
To help attract more women, the department has also added a female recruiter.
A promotional video for the department on its website opens with about 50 men and women standing behind Sheriff Sandra Hutchens – the first female sheriff in the department’s 120-plus year history – and leads into a series of actions shots.
A deputy cuts a sharp turn on a motorcycle, one frisks a suspect, one directs inmates in jail while another responds in full SWAT gear as dramatic, fast-paced music drums in the background. Many of the deputies in the video are women.
More female deputies are needed in the county’s Women’s Jail, and officials are also hoping more women in its ranks will change the composition of the department.
“Diversity is also considered a key ingredient for the successful implementation of community-based policing, in which law enforcement agencies collaborate with citizens’ groups to address public safety issues,” according to a 2012 report by the Rand Corporation Center on Quality Policing.
According to a study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 14 percent of the O.C. Sheriff Department’s sworn personnel were women in 2000 – higher than the national average of 12 percent. The number of women in the department has since fallen to 11 percent this year.
Still, the department touts a diverse workforce, from its rank and file to its top brass. Of the 10 members in its executive staff, three are women, including Sheriff Hutchens, its executive director of administrative services, and the commander for field operations and investigations.
Sheriff’s officials also reviewed its application and training process and found many recruits were lost during the physical agility test, in particular sit-ups and the 6-foot wall all recruits must conquer. Standards were not lowered, but the course was opened for practice runs.
Sgt. Steve Simpson, academy coordinator, said the focus of the training has shifted in recent years to general fitness that focuses on more job-related tasks, but men and women must meet the same standards.
Other police departments are also hiring, though not at the same pace.
Anaheim Police, for example, are continually hiring for open positions but doing no active recruitment, said Sgt. Bob Dunn.
Last year, the Santa Ana Police department hired about a dozen new officers, but there are few openings, said Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Still, both departments said they looking at nearby universities, such as Chapman and Cal State Fullerton for recruits with college degrees and life experience.
Deputy Sheriff Trainee Marshall Link graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in finance and worked in the mortgage industry, but decided to make a career change at 28.
“Do I want to do what makes me money or what I have a passion for?” he said.
Most departments, including Anaheim, Santa Ana, and the Sheriff’s Department require only a high school diploma, yet most successful applicants have a college degree or are working toward one.
“If you look at the requirements of what was needed back then, life was a little simpler,” said Capt. Wayne Byerley of the Orange County Sheriff Department’s standards division, said.
Hundreds of applications are usually received for a limited number of spots and the tests recruits must pass before getting into the academy can whittle applicants down significantly. In the Sheriff’s department, for example, more than 900 people will apply for an academy class with 24 seats.
“We see a big fail rate at the very first written and physical agility test,” Beyer said. “That’s why colleges are so effective. You don’t know how foreign it is to some people to take a written test.”
Link is hoping his background will also help reach his goals of being an investigator and utilizing his financial expertise.
A career in law enforcement is also appealing to more students these days because of the tight job market.
“Back in the 90s you could go in and out with a four-year degree and go straight into your field. That’s not happening right now,” Beyer said.
To reduce the rate of failure, law enforcement officials have zeroed in area colleges and those coming out of the military.
During hiring cycles, the Irvine Police department may get 1,000 applications, said Lt. Julia Engen, who worked as a recruiter for that department from 2007-2010.
Unlike other departments, Irvine Police requires applicants to have a minimum of 60 college units or an equivalent. That can mean anything from work experience to serving in the military.
In 2010, approximately 86 percent of all of Irvine’s 204 officers had some sort of degree, Engen said.
“A lot of what we do is solve problems and people who solve problems are those with critical thinking skills,” Engen said. “College is a good training ground. It’s not the only training ground, but it’s a good place to start those skills. Law enforcement (today) is not your father’s law enforcement.”
Salary for Deputy Sheriff Trainee (Academy level): $25.72 an hour, or $53,498
Deputy Sheriff (Entry Level): $29.36 to $39.90 an hour, or $61,069 to $82,992
Salaries can also include incentive pay, such as bilingual, special assignment, motorcycle, canine, and field training officer
Benefits include Medical, dental, vision, life, annual leave, holidays, paid retirement (3% at 55 plan), tuition reimbursement.
Source: Orange County Sheriff’s Department
By SALVADOR HERNANDEZ/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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