Interim police chief discusses recruiting challenges
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs’ interim police chief told the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday he thinks the recent instability at the police department and negative national media coverage focused on violent interactions between citizens and police are making it more difficult to recruit officers here.
Interim Chief Jerry DeLong told council members the police department is still down three officers, and recruiting efforts are ongoing.
At one recent hiring session, all six of the prospective applicants washed out during the process, he said.
The department found greater success at a more recent hiring session and is swearing in some new officers.
At a budget hearing, Councilman Kenny Reisman asked city staff why the understaffing at the police department is not being called a crisis.
He said he felt the city was not getting ahead of the issue and questioned why the staffing shortages were not being addressed aggressively in the budget, as a shortage of seasonal bus drivers recently was.
“I know we’re doing the best we can. I’m not saying we’re not. But in terms of a really dynamic approach to figure out how to get ourselves out of this, I don’t feel like we have it,” Reisman said.
He asked DeLong “what needs to happen here to get us right for the police department.”
DeLong said it goes beyond the city’s budget proposal.
“In my opinion, the atmosphere of law enforcement has to change,” DeLong said. “Fifteen, 20 years ago, anybody who would advertise for a police officer position, you would have 20 to 30 people apply. This day and age, people don’t want to become police officers. You can see it almost every night on TV. Police officers are the number-one story, and I hate to say that.”
Violent confrontations between citizens and police have grabbed national headlines recently.
There was violent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict an officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.
And six officers were recently charged in Baltimore after a man in their custody died of a spinal injury while being transported in a police van.
Local events may also be impacting this city’s police recruiting efforts.
DeLong said the recent instability at the police department in the wake of an internal investigation that led to the departures of the city’s top two police officials could make an applicant hesitant to move to Steamboat.
“You look at the situation, at the police department within, and if you’re from wherever, and you want to come to Steamboat, maybe this is not the right time to uproot yourself from your current job, because you’re looking at it with everything in the paper (and asking yourself) ‘is it really stable to be a police officer in Steamboat?,'” DeLong said.
Reisman said he understood that, but he wondered if an action such as a $5,000 salary increase, combined with evidence the city is taking steps to improve the police department, would convince more candidates to pursue police jobs in Steamboat.
DeLong said while money is a motivator in recruiting efforts, a good work environment is just as important.
“Money is up at the top, but it’s job satisfaction, work environment, and before people take that step with their family, they’re going to make sure they have a good work environment and it’s stable,” DeLong said.
Councilman Walter Magill said the city needs to stabilize the police department before it focuses on retooling its recruiting efforts.
“It’s more of a patience thing,” Magill said. “Let’s get the new chief. Let’s get the stabilization, and then let’s improve the recruiting process. We’re changing the atmosphere of the police department, as well, and I think someone is looking at that. Until it looks like a shining opportunity, then are you joining the best company you can? People are asking themselves that. We need to improve the company atmosphere before we go on a big recruitment.”
DeLong is one of five finalists vying to become the city’s next permanent police chief.
Community members will have the opportunity to meet all of the candidates from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.
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