For 1st time, Hayden pays to train a police officer amid national shortage
HAYDEN — At its town council meeting earlier in the month, Hayden’s newest police officer took an oath of office before a small crowd of residents and council members.
Tague Humenik, who worked previously with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, is the first officer the town sponsored to attend the police academy at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, an investment of about $10,000.
This comes as police departments across the U.S. have reported drops in recruitment numbers amid intense public scrutiny and have had to use their own budgets to train new officers.
Shortage of officers
As calls for service have increased in Hayden over recent years, Police Chief Greg Tuliszewski wanted to add another officer to the ranks but struggled to find a well-qualified applicant.
“The candidate pool has decreased greatly,” he said.
Whereas in the past he has seen 60 to 70 people, most of whom already had police academy training, vying for a single job opening, only about 10 people applied for Humenik’s position.
Over the past five years, he has seen as few as five applicants for local police jobs.
Part of the problem, in Tuliszewski’s opinion, is the intense criticism of law enforcement in general. Incidents where officers shot unarmed citizens, like Ferguson in 2014 or Cleveland in 2015, have fueled a lack of trust and respect for police.
“It’s not as popular right now being an officer,” Tuliszewski said. “There’s so much negative media coverage on law enforcement.”
Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen has noticed a similar drop in qualified applicants in recent years.
To address the deficit, his department has sponsored an increasing number of people to attend police academies in the area, usually to the tune of $13,000 per person. Last year, the Steamboat Springs Police Department sponsored five applicants; this year, it sponsored two.
“That’s unusual for us in Steamboat to sponsor more than one at a time,” Christensen said.
The shortage is not unique to Routt County.
“It’s a national problem of declining applications for police work,” he said.
Police departments across the country lost more than 23,000 police officers from 2013 to 2016, according to a survey from the U.S. Justice Department. In another survey, almost 70% of 397 law enforcement agencies reported a decrease in applicants compared to five years ago.
Uniqueness of small-town law enforcement
At the same time, Tuliszewski has seen about a 40% increase in emergency calls in Hayden. As he considered adding a fifth full-time officer, few of the applicants had been through the police academy, and even fewer seemed suited for the job.
As he explained, a smaller police department like that in Hayden has a more community-centered approach compared to more urban departments.
“We still do the arrests and enforce the law like we have to, but there’s a lot of agencies that don’t respond to little things,” Tuliszewski said.
In recent years, the department has worked to improve its relationship with community members in an effort to foster trust and comfort with its officers. It takes a specific kind of officer to field those less urgent matters, like a dispute between neighbors or cat stuck in a tree, while building rapport with the public.
Humenik, who worked previously in the Routt County Detention Center, knows the Yampa Valley well and wants to make it a safe place for his wife and two daughters. He has also lived in Hayden for almost five years and appreciates the small-town approach to law enforcement.
“You get to build more of a personal relationship with people, which I think helps in the long run,” he said.
So far, Humenik’s boss is happy with how the new recruit has carried himself in his initial weeks on patrol.
“The leadership and abilities he showed in the academy and the testing process are coming through on the street,” Tuliszewski said.
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