The Durango Police Department hopes higher pay will attract more officers to the department, but after a month into 2020 and an increased pay schedule for city employees, the agency has not yet seen an influx of applicants.
It’s hard to get people to apply for jobs in law enforcement, especially at a midsize agency in a city where cost of living is high, said Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer. Metropolitan departments often offer higher wages in a “bidding war” to get qualified and certified candidates into police training.
“Big agencies can pay more,” he said.
A citywide pay raise increased entry-level pay for officers from $24.75 to $26.48 an hour. But the agency, as of late January, still had four vacancies. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, by comparison, has an opening for one patrol deputy at $25.23 an hour, said spokesman Chris Burke.
But a pay raise is just one part of the strategy the Police Department uses to hire and retain employees. The agency offers qualified local candidates sponsorships to obtain a Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, Brammer said.
The Sheriff’s Office offers similar opportunities for POST certification, but scholarships are often given to people who already work for the agency, Burke said. The award often goes to jail deputies with seniority who want to move into a patrol position, he said.
Qualifying as a police officer in Colorado requires significant investment of time and money, said Doug Parker, director of the Southwest Regional Law Enforcement Academy at Pueblo Community College. The 18-week program at PCC is “frankly a lot more intense than people recognize,” Parker said.
Of the 17 cadets in training this spring, Parker said seven have their education paid by a law enforcement agency. Brammer said cadets sponsored by the Police Department are paid a salary and get benefits offered to employees.
Brammer is looking for local applicants because they are more likely to stay if they land a job in the area. Fort Lewis College provides a fertile candidate pool, he said.
Hiring people who know the region ensures candidates understand the economics of living in Southwest Colorado, Parker said. “If people have grown up in this area, they understand community and community issues,” he said.
Most graduates from the Southwest Regional Law Enforcement Academy are local and stay local, he said.
Agencies have started offering educational opportunities to new hires, Parker said. Work-life balance is important to applicants, and many get into law enforcement because they want to serve their community, Parker said.
“Emphasizing that service is a strong value makes it (jobs in law enforcement) attractive for the millennials,” he said.