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Fewer seeking to protect and serve

December 15, 2018

Capt. Scott Berning has seen the number fall virtually every year for the last six years.

In 2013, 1,092 people applied to be officers with the Fort Wayne Police Department. This year, 508 people applied : a drop of nearly half.

The Allen County Sheriff’s Department saw 478 applications during the 2015-16 hiring process. That number shrank to 306 this year.

The two local law enforcement agencies aren’t alone. 

About 66 percent of nearly 400 police departments recently surveyed by the Washington Post said their number of applicants had dropped.

Berning, Fort Wayne police director of training, said there are several reasons.

Among them, he said, is the portrayal of police officers in the news media.

“There’s no other profession that is second guessed as much,” he said. “People are sitting in their living rooms second guessing officers every step of the way.”

Even politicians, he said, “are quick to react to police situations when they don’t really have all the facts.”

The dangers that come with police work and the economy with its low unemployment are also factors. With so many other jobs available, Berning said, “do you really want to work a job where you put on a bullet-resistant vest?” 

Capt. Steve Stone, public information officer with the sheriff’s department, said low unemployment in the private sector directly affects government hiring. But he offered another reason he said prevents good candidates from being hired : marijuana.

“Even though it is legal in other states, it is not legal in Indiana. Should it be become legal in this state, it will never be allowed on the Sheriff’s Department,” Stone said in an email.

“Unfortunately you can’t go out one night and partake in illegal activities and wake up the next morning and decide that you want to be a law enforcement officer,” Stone continued. “Departments need to see a gap in time between poor judgment and unacceptable behavior and entrusting you with the responsibility and authority needed to be a police officer.”

The sheriff’s department would see around 1,000 applications in the 1990s, Stone said. It now sees about a third of that number.

The sheriff’s department has 131 officers, a number the county has budgeted for. The city has budgeted for 480 officers and has 476. But nine city police officers are expected to retire by the end of February, Berning said.

The city department will begin accepting applications in February, but the academy class doesn’t begin until a year later. That alone can change some minds, Berning said.

“It’s a long process to get on, and sometimes we lose them,” he said.

If they’re hired, they can expect a base salary of nearly 54,000 the second year on the city’s force. The county’s starting salary is about $54,000.

But Berning wonders if more millennials are reluctant to apply. He sees fewer younger officers on the city department who want to work overtime.

Fortunately, he sees the number of applicants leveling off.

The city will continue to recruit officers from colleges, military bases and trade schools, he said. The city and county do not require their officers to have college degrees.

The city will also look at experienced officers from other cities who apply here. Their training isn’t as long compared to someone with no experience, Berning said.

jchapman@jg.net

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