With staffing numbers down, Police Department seeks new recruits

Posted: April 11, 2014

POLICE Commissioner Charles Ramsey said that although crime is down in 2014 compared with 2013, the year is young and the police force can't seem to retain new officers to fill a gap in staffing.

The news emerged from yesterday's City Council budget hearing, which addressed police, firefighters, prisons and libraries.

As it budgets its needs for next year, recruitment, Ramsey said, is a major issue, with half of all new applicants not showing up for orientation and many more not making the cut entirely.

"Fifty percent or more don't show for orientation, even though they've been invited," Ramsey said.

Eligible candidates must be at least 19 years old to apply to be a police officer. First, they must pass a physical test and a reading-comprehension test, then a polygraph test and a background check. People are lost along the way. According to the commissioner, about 3 percent fail the ninth-grade-level reading-comprehension test.

"We're seeing whether it's a problem of our standards being too tight," Ramsey said.

"It is a balance there that we're constantly reviewing."

Ramsey said the biggest decline in the department is with African-American men, although there has been an increase in the acceptance of African-American women and Hispanics. Today, 33 percent of the entire department is African-American.

"In 2009, 2010 and 2011, with the recession, we did not hire for a period of time, but we still had attrition," Ramsey said. "We're 179 officers down from our authorized strength of 6,525."

Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby said the commissioner is right - the police complement is understaffed. He said the city is large enough and self-sufficient enough that it should not have to comply with state police standards.

"We have way too much oversight. Our hands are tied in getting people in," McNesby said.

"We're abiding by the rules and regulations that we shouldn't have to. We shouldn't have to jump through hoops because somebody missed a sit-up."

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