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Aging Baby Boomers, Wars, Fuels Police Recruiting ‘Goldrush’

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By Chris Levister

Despite the Hollywood image of a cop's life, they don't live in million dollar houses, and they don't always get the bad guy. So police recruiters can't offer the prospect of glamour  to prospective officers and that leaves them in a pickle. Police departments across the country are desperate to beef up their ranks and are using unprecedented recruiting tactics that include luring officer candidates from other cities and offering dramatically increased pay, housing allowances and other perks.

So when 33 year old former Atlanta police officer Steven P. Vaughn sold his house, packed his car and drove to southern California he had one thing in mind: He was determined to cash in on the state's police recruiting ‘goldrush'.

"For guys like me - it's a feast," gushed Vaughn. "I wasn't worried about landing a job as a police officer in California."  What he didn't realize was the unapologetic elbowing that ensued over whose badge he'd covet.

"It turned unto a feeding frenzy, all of these police departments are looking for diverse recruits," he said. Vaughn landed in Irvine complete with a hefty pay and benefits package, a $5,000 signing bonus, a generous housing allowance and the promise of a promotion after one year on the job.  A quick Google search turned up hundreds of other police and sheriff's departments eager to get their hands on Vaughn.

ImageWhen it comes to hiring peace officers Vaughn is a pearl for departments "tapped out" of prospective minority candidates. He's African-American, experienced, college educated, bilingual, physically fit and single.  

But sharp elbow type tactics haven't proven very successful in attracting minority recruits.  Ethnic minorities remain severely underrepresented in police forces all over the country. The Department of Justice reported in April: The average percentage of sworn personnel who were members of a racial or ethnic minority was 25 percent for county police department, 27 percent for municipal police departments, 21 percent for sheriff's departments, and 15 percent for State police agencies, hardly a reflection of the nation's rapidly changing demographics.   

Fire service and law enforcement can be lucrative careers. However, these are careers which many Blacks, Latinos and Asians have not considered, according to Carl Dameron, producer of the Inland Empire Diversity Career and Job Fair.  The July 30 Fire and Police Fair is geared towards increasing the numbers of people from ethnic groups in both of these agencies.

"Local fire departments have not hired as many persons from ethnic groups as other places," Dameron said. "Fire departments seem to have a problem finding applicants who can complete the application process."

Applicants for fire and police jobs must be American citizens, permanent residents who are eligible to apply for citizenship, and have to pass a rigorous background check.  They must also meet certain physical and psychological standards.

"Our goal is to bring prospective recruits face to face with police and fire departments. The fair is designed to help agencies find Black, Latino and Asian candidates who can complete the process required for a career in these fields," said Delores Armstead, vice president of the Inland Empire African-American Chamber of Commerce.

Armstead said area law enforcement agencies are facing a huge increase in demand for their services as the population of the Inland Empire soars.

Local police recruiters point to an "in your face" print, television and billboard media campaign targeting Inland minority neighborhoods. A billboard perched high above Baseline Street in San Bernardino boasts a starting pay of $73,000 for California Department of Corrections' officers.

Armstead says the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, LAPD, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the Department of Corrections have put out a dragnet for minority recruits.

Local agencies are fighting back with their own aggressive campaign saying L.A. is the one place in the country where smaller departments can compete with the cost of housing, referring to the soaring cost of real estate in L.A. where the median home price is about $475,000.

The Riverside Police Department is offering a $5,000 signing bonus for new officers and a $1,000 referral fee.  Starting pay is $56,000 per year plus benefits. San Bernardino is offering new officers $50,000 to start.

"It's a perfect storm, 911, wars on two fronts, baby boomers are retiring and potential minority recruits have more career opportunities. Police and fire departments are desperate to find new blood," says recruiter and former police captain Martin Billings.

Experts say the problem is compounded by a lack of communications among police agencies. There's no clearinghouse for job postings at the nearly 20,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., but hundreds of departments are listing and searching for recruits on a popular police website, lawenforcementjobs.com, where agencies seek candidates for an array of jobs.

The Inland Empire Diversity Fire and Police Job Fair will be held July 30 at the San Bernardino Boys and Girls Club, located at 1180 West 9th Street in San Bernardino, from 9 am to 2 pm.

For more information on local recruitment in law enforcement, see the BVN Employment Section on A-6.

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