By Natalie Simms
Signing bonuses for law enforcement officers? Employee incentives for finding successful applicants?
Law enforcement agencies in Bartow and Floyd counties continue to face staffing shortages and are looking at creative ways to attract and retain qualified candidates to fill those positions. While the Floyd County Police Department is fully staffed, other agencies including Rome City Police, Floyd Sheriff’s Office, Cartersville Police and Bartow Sheriff’s Office are working to fill two dozen or more vacancies through job fairs, social media, recruitment bonuses and even signing bonuses.
It was an electronic billboard on U.S. 41 in Cartersville, just after the Ga. 20 merge, that caught our attention and led to this story. In hold letters, the billboard recruiting for the sheriff’s office was displaying benefits of the job including a recruiting bonus of $2,400 (read it here as well).
The sheriff’s office currently is recruiting for jail officers and communications officer (E-911) within the department. They have a billboard up in Cartersville, promoting a signing bonus for hired candidates. We contacted the sheriff’s office for comments on their recruitment efforts several times last week but they did not respond to our requests prior to today’s publication. We’ll add that information if it becomes available. Click here for their current job listings.
The agency continues to struggle to find qualified candidates to fill their eight vacancies in the department with 96 allowed sworn officers.
“Those eight vacancies do not include officers in sick leave or military leave. We also have three in training. So in actuality, we have about 15 positions that do not provide patrol services at this time,” says Assistant Chief Debbie Burnett.
She did not have specific data on how many officers have left since January 2018 or their reasons for leaving but she believes a spreading hostile environment toward police officers is having an impact.
“I believe that the way officers are portrayed at times has an effect on recruitment. People are hesitant to enter a career where they must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and deal with societal disrespect. Most citizens still hold police officers in high regard and we often hear thank you. But potential recruits have to face the very real matter that there are many people now who are willing to meet them with violence,” says Burnett.
The department is now doing constant assessments on candidates as soon as they receive applications, instead of waiting for a specific time to process. They also are offering bonuses to current employees who recruit a successful applicant.
“Our current efforts seem to be working somewhat better. However, the biggest issue we face is finding qualified applicants who pass the background investigation,” she says. “As a department, we will just continue to be diligent in our efforts and be the model of a police department. As always, we must constantly evaluate our pay and benefits and make adjustments as we can, so that officers don’t have to work so much just to pay their bills and provide for their family.”
The sheriff’s office currently has 10 vacancies, which include one civilian vacancy and nine jail officer/deputy sheriff positions. The office is allotted 156 position of which 13 are civilian and 134 are jail officer/deputy sheriffs.
Since Jan. 1, 2018, the agency has lost 38 employees for various reasons including retirement, transfer to other departments, leaving law enforcement or termination from the department. In addition, there are several other jail officers and deputies in the process of leaving for employment with other agencies at this current time, says Sgt. Anna Banks, CALEA Accreditation Manager with the sheriff’s office.
“Pay is still one of the main contributors to our low retention rate. However, the sheriff, county commissioners, county manager and other department heads have worked together to develop and subsequently approve a better retirement plan,” says Banks.
“Another contributing factor to our retention rate is the mindset of the workforce today. Years ago, you had men/women who held loyal to their employer and rarely left that job, even if they were offered more money. However, this is not the mindset you find today. Many people will leave a good job with benefits, for a job with no benefits, simply because the new job pays a nickel more. It’s the need for that instant reward or gratification that they are seeking, rather than stability.”
As for recruitment efforts, Banks says they are trying multiple avenues to reach qualified candidates. In fact, the department just launched a new website, fcsoprofessionaldevelopment.com, to help perspective employees with the hiring process.
“We are/have utilized job fairs, social media and websites. We are also in the developmental phase of some new and improved methods for recruitment,” says Banks. “Recruitment is a slow, but steady process which will continue. As far as interest goes, that is where we are coming up short. In today’s climate where law enforcement officers are most times seen as the enemy, many people avoid the profession.”
Sheriff Tim Burkhalter says the department is starting to reach out to the military in offering jobs to retired soldiers. “We are also working to develop an employee sponsorship program where we can have employee recruitment by employees that could get a bonus for sponsoring candidates,” he says
Banks adds, “Despite the hardships, we continue to press forward and try our best to do the best job with what we have. The true credit goes to the men and women employed by the Sheriff’s Office, as they continue to work hard despite being short staffed and they continue to be loyal despite the increasing workloads they face due to our vacancies.”
The Police Department currently is fully staffed with a total of 76 sworn officers, including five who are now training at the Police Academy. However, the department anticipates hiring four people within the coming weeks if the Floyd County Commission approves the request to hire additional school resource officers with funding support from Floyd County Schools.
“This is something the parents and the school board have wanted us to do to help with increasing security at our schools. We currently have six resource officers among Floyd County Schools and we will be increasing that to 10 if the commission approves the request at their meeting this Tuesday,” says Sgt. Chris Fincher.
Since Jan. 1, 2018, they have had two officers retire and another five left for various reasons including jobs outside of law enforcement, transfer to other law enforcement agencies or moving outside the area. Fincher says one of those officers left law enforcement but then soon returned.
“We really are a family among ourselves and I think that speaks highly of our department. That is probably what is most attractive about the police department is the camaraderie and family atmosphere. In this line of work, you want to be around folks that you can trust and know will have your back,” he says.
“And we also have a great administrative team…the Floyd County Commission and County Manager are all very receptive to our comments and really have an open forum with employees. They are working hard to upgrade our equipment and equitable pay. Our Chief (Mark Wallace) has the same mentality…he is open to suggestions and ideas.”
The agency currently has five current vacancies with interviews scheduled for the coming weeks. The department has 61 positions, including 56 sworn officers and five civilian positions (dispatch, records, crime analysis). There is an open application process where prospective candidates can download an application and the requirements at www.cityofcartersville.org.
Since Jan. 1, 2018, dozen officers left the department for reasons including retirement, getting out of law enforcement or transferring to other law enforcement agencies.
“We advertise open positions on social media, attend multiple job fairs yearly and are involved in a wide variety of community events to recruit new officers,” says Capt. Mike Bettikofer with CPD. “Pistol competitions, involvement in local 5k races and other events will be part of the recruitment effort in 2019. We feel that branching out into different venues will bring more qualified applicants through our doors.”
While Cartersville City employees did receive a 4 percent salary increase for the current budget year, Bettikofer says compensation, public perception, schedules and associated danger of law enforcement are some of the reasons for staffing shortages.
“We have to remember that the field of law enforcement is not a one size fits all career choice. The Cartersville Police Department hires, outfits and trains officers, some with no police experience prior to employment though they possess degrees and other desirable attributes that indicate they would make a good officer. Unfortunately, some of the recruits may not pass basic requirements during the 10-week police academy. Firearms, defensive driving and weekly tests can prove a challenge and some do not make it.
“For our department, once a recruit graduates from the academy, they must successfully pass the 3-month field training program (FTO), meeting all requirements to be released as a solo officer. While there is a great amount of effort that goes into the field training, not all meet the standards and are released from the program.”
To continue to combat the hiring and retention crisis, the CPD works to improve the working conditions of their officers.
“We have integrated the newest technology to streamline report writing and training, keeping high standards while increasing the officers’ much-needed and valuable time off. Multiple assignments and promotional opportunities keep new officers engaged and provide tenured officers with an opportunity to use their experience,” he says.
“We take pride in that officers, not just command staff, give valuable input on new ideas and different approaches to the way the job is done, giving a voice throughout the chain of command to improve service to the city. This type of communication is critical as new officers come through the door so we can adapt to the needs of the community and create ownership within the ranks.”