Phoenix PD needs 400 new officers. Why is it so hard to fill the jobs?

Posted at 6:48 PM, Oct 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-20 21:48:22-04

The job is demanding, the danger is high, but the pay is competitive. $50,000 is the annually starting salary for police officers in Phoenix.

Javier Tapia believes he's cut out for it. Tapia was one of more than 200 people who attended the Phoenix Police Department recruitment event on Friday at the Phoenix Convention Center. He works in construction right now.

"Coming from a family that doesn't have a background in (law enforcement), it's exciting to be the first person to take this step to a different career," he said.

He's hoping to make it into the academy. And he's not alone. A Phoenix Police spokesperson said on average, a little more than 300 people take the first step into the process each month, a written test.

"We're only able to hire 25 people as a police recruit," Lt. Anthony Lopez, of Phoenix Police Recruitment Services, said.

That's less than 10 percent. What's the problem? According to Lt. Lopez, it's a combination of factors. He said 85 percent pass the written test. But next is the physical agility test. That's when things really start to go downhill. Only 65 percent pass that assessment. At that point, the pool of candidates is now cut in half. Then comes the process of the background check, the interview, a psychological evaluation, and a medical evaluation. And for some coming right out of their wild youth, there's something that could quickly eliminate them.

"There can be no marijuana experimentation in the past three years," said Lt. Lopez. "In the area of hard drugs, there can be no experimenting in the past seven years."

None. And it's a state guideline. Even at a time when other states are legalizing pot, it's an eliminating factor for Arizona police departments.

"We're very careful to evaluate the marijuana usage in an illegal usage and a legal usage," he said. "But I can tell you the city of Phoenix will not be hiring anyone with a medical marijuana card."

Lt. Lopez said a big hurdle is catching up after the six-year hiring freeze. Officers are rapidly retiring and it's hard to keep up with attrition.  

"When you lose 200 a year and only hire 300, your net gain is only 100," he said. "Our process of hiring will be for many years ahead." 

Phoenix Police is hiring 400 people. There are also other positions in the department. For more on how to apply, click here.

Think you can pass the written test? Here's a sample test.