Arizona police agencies in desperate need of officers, looking to hire hundreds

PHOENIX - Police in need of help. 

There's a critical emergency at your local law enforcement agency, and now they're calling you for help.

From police to sheriff departments and even the state, almost every agency in the country is facing a huge shortage of police officers. Many departments have hundreds of open positions listed.

"We are facing trying times, we are depleted of resources," said Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone at a press conference held at the Phoenix branch of Northern Arizona University on Monday.  

"We have a vacancy of about 385 right now, by next year we hope to have 400 spots filled," said Commander Brian Lee, a recruiting specialist with the Phoenix Police Department.  

"Somewhere around 165 to 185 trooper positions for us, and about the same number of professional staff we're hiring," said Col. Frank Milstead with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.  

A spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office said they had 277 open positions for detention officers and 89 open positions for sworn officers or deputies, which brings the total to 366 vacancies.  

How did it get so bad?

Years of budget cuts and a hiring freeze are being attributed for the shortfall that has been mounting over the years. Milstead said many agencies hired many officers in the 1980's. Most of those people are now retiring, which led to many open positions that they have been unable to fill.

Departments are launching aggressive hiring campaigns to meet the numbers. All of them recruiting out of state, as well as in Arizona.

"We have a flight en route to El Paso today, this is our third trip this month, and we plan to have several more," said Lee.

He added that they were also aggressively recruiting from military bases around the country.

"About 30% of the people we've hired in the last year have been former military," said Lee.

The critical short staffing has led departments to streamline operations. In the last few months the Phoenix Police Department has completely re-structured operations. Dozens of detectives and officers have been pulled from "specialty" assignments and assigned back to patrol. 

"Patrol is the number one function of any police agency, you have to be able to keep up with the calls coming in," said Lee. 

In the state, DPS officials said the staffing level meant they were not able to staff all parts of the state 24 hours a day. Milstead said many departments had also cut back on visibility patrols and DUI enforcement which in a way had a ripple effect on the number of wrong way crashes we have seen. 

"Most agencies used to have a lot of nighttime pro-active DUI enforcement. At Phoenix, when I was a traffic bureau commander we had 165 motorcycle officers doing traffic. Now there's 25. I think some of those people are getting on the freeways because they're not stopped in the cities," said Milstead. 

Changing face of policing

Now with almost everyone they encountered armed with a cell phone, their job was on public display and under public scrutiny more than ever.

Incidents like the police officer who punched a woman and was caught on camera instantly went viral, putting entire departments under the microscope.

"Right now it's been harder for us to recruit. In a sense, because there's been a lot of negativity around law enforcement," said Penzone.

The new officers they hire will have to be well versed in community policing and service. Milstead said accountability and winning back the trust of the community they serve were crucial skills to have in law enforcement.

"The perception that somehow we want to keep these people is completely false. That is a false narrative. If we have bad people in law enforcement, we want them out as fast as you do," said Milstead.

How to apply 

Recruiters said a big incentive to join the police force was that they would pay for your higher education and training. There is no age cut off to apply, but you do have to be able to pass their physical fitness test.

NAU's Phoenix campus is hosting a law enforcement job fair this weekend.

It will be held on Saturday, April 29th from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 15451 N. 28th Ave. in Phoenix.

For more information, you can contact Ray Lewis at Raymond.lewis@nau.edu. 

Phoenix police say if you have any questions about becoming an officer or want to find out the testing dates, you can reach them at 602-534-2677(COPS) or click here for more. 

DPS jobs are posted on azdps.gov. To become a corrections officer or deputy in Maricopa County, you can click here.

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