Low Pay, Negative Mindset Has TPD Struggling To Find Recruits
TULSA, Oklahoma - Friday, the Tulsa Police Academy graduated 20 cadets - 19 officers and one fire marshal.
The graduation comes at a crucial time, as city leaders are trying to figure out how to handle a shortage of officers within the force.
The Tulsa Police Department said it currently has 771 sworn officers with 711 available to work. A study by the University of Cincinnati says the city needs to add at least 200 more officers.
Tulsa Police Chief, Chuck Jordan, said, "We're looking at a public safety funding package that may allow us to do even more hiring and get us up to the numbers we need to be at. We have a concurrent academy going on right now, as a matter of fact, that we'll be graduating later next year, so we're encouraging recruitment."
The graduates will now complete another 16 weeks of on the job training before they officially join the force. But, even when those cadets hit the streets, TPD said it still needs 200 more officers.
All over the area, the push to recruit new police officers continues; but, considering the state of police and public relations, and the pay, the pool of potential candidates is dropping.
According to the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Sergeant Clay Ballenger, it isn't a job for everyone, especially now.
"It's a very difficult time to be a police officer," he said.
Ballenger said the sensationalism from the media and other groups has spurred a lot of negative generalizations about cops.
Nearly 20 years ago, when Ballenger joined the force, hundreds would come out for written tests. But he said now, on average, 20 or 30 people show up.
Ballenger said, "People that might have wanted to be a police officer see that and think, ‘Maybe I want to do something else.’"
He said the negative viewpoints play a role in the number of police we see on the streets and, on top of that, is the growing number of police reaching retirement age.
Ballenger said about 30 officers leave the Tulsa police force each year, and with fewer people wanting to serve and protect, the academy isn't finding enough cadets to make up the difference.
But Ballenger said those aren't the biggest problems.
"The single most important thing that affects us in Tulsa, as far as recruiting more officers, is our pay. We are underpaid and not competitive even in the state of Oklahoma. So, although we are the second largest city in the state, the last time we crunched numbers we were eighth in pay," he said.
In a job where people literally vow to give their lives if need be, Ballenger said people looking to be officers will often go where the salary is, and Tulsa just hasn't been that place.
He admits that even if the money was there; unless people's mindsets change, the shortage will likely continue.
Ballenger said the Fraternal Order of Police has been working with city council, and they hope to get a plan for a public safety tax drawn up to put before voters that would help increase pay for emergency personnel.