Roswell Police Department works to meet recruiting and retention challenges in hopes of filling and maintaining its officer roster
By Todd Wildermuth, RPD Public Information Officer
As the officers of the Roswell Police Department meet the challenges each day of protecting and serving the Roswell community, the department also takes on another challenge – recruiting more new officers to fill the ranks of the local police force.
RPD is budgeted for 96 sworn officers, ranging from the police chief, deputy chief, captains and lieutenants to the sergeants, patrol officers, detectives, narcotics agents and crime-scene personnel. The largest single group among the ranks, however, is the patrol officers, the cops on the streets every day. Currently, there are just short of 40 officers, overseen directly by six sergeants, who compose RPD’s Patrol Division. Divided among three daily shifts and working four 10-hour shifts a week, they are responsible for patrolling the city and responding to calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It is the goal of the department’s recruitment personnel to some day have a full complement of officers on the roster that for the last three years has averaged a shortage of about 15 officers below the allotted amount. Reaching that goal can often be elusive because as fast as new recruits join the department, others are often leaving for a variety of reasons ranging from new officers getting their first taste of real police work and realizing this isn’t the right career for them, to officers who have put in a few years with RPD joining other law enforcement agencies closer to their hometowns or moving on for other reasons, to veteran officers retiring after a full career.
“The challenge in my opinion is not with recruiting. It is retaining those individuals when they get hired,” says Recruiting Sergeant Richard Romero of RPD’s Support Services Division. Romero has been instrumental in the hiring of about 60 new officers in the last three years. However, he has also seen just as many leave the department in that time period.
That equation adds up to the fact that maintaining the flow of new officers into the police department remains very important. One approach that can have a positive impact on both recruitment and retention is RPD’s recent emphasis on reaching out to local residents who may be interested in a law enforcement career in their own community. Working with the City of Roswell’s Public Affairs Department and using radio ads, posters around town, billboards and Facebook campaigns, RPD is “asking the citizens to stand up for their hometown,” explains Romero.
RPD recently held a hiring event at the convention center that attracted about 30 people, with 25 of them filling out cards expressing interest in a law enforcement career and 13 submitting applications during the event. Five more applications linked to the event were submitted in the two days following the event. The department also now has two of its recruiters driving pick-up trucks fully wrapped in a specially designed message to let people know of the opportunity to apply to be a Roswell police officer. The minimum age to be a police officer is 20½. People ages 19 to 21 who plan on eventually pursuing a job as an officer can get a head start in RPD’s Police Service Aide program that offers a way for these prospects to come on board as a police department employee and begin learning and experiencing some of the basics of police work.
RPD’s starting pay for new recruits is $18.28 per hour and increases to $22 per hour within the new hire’s first year. Officers are allowed to take home their police vehicles and use them for personal travel around town. RPD personnel are eligible for retirement after 25 years of service and receive 70 percent of their ending pay level as an annual pension amount. RPD hopes to continue working on improving the pay rate and sign-on bonus program to better compete with other law enforcement agencies in the region for potential recruits.
But the financial aspects of the job are only part of what prospective police officers consider, Romero points out.
He describes some of the personal fulfillment of the job as “satisfaction of helping people, making a difference in the community, helping those citizens that can’t protect themselves, pride of accomplishments and honor.”
RPD generally receives 10 to 15 officer applications a month. But the journey from applying to being hired is a rigorous one. Of the 163 applicants last year, 20 were hired. Those were the ones who successfully made it through the process of a physical test (1½-mile run in 15 minutes, 54 seconds or less; a minimum of 15 pushups in one minute; a minimum of 27 sit-ups in one minute; 300-meter run in no more than 71 seconds), written test (basic high school graduate-level education), thorough criminal and personal background checks, interviews, and psychological exam.
Once they are hired, recruits complete a month of department training before being placed on patrol duty, during which the first 12 weeks are spent in field training, a time when the recruit rides on patrol with an experienced officer. Each recruit also spends four months at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy to earn his or her state law enforcement certification.
The process of joining RPD is quicker for officers who have worked for other agencies and are already trained and certified. So bringing in these types of officers, known as “lateral transfers,” is an important part of recruiting.
Romero explains some of the benefits to the department when hiring laterals: “The cost is far less for uniforms. The lateral has a working knowledge of the job itself and knows what he or she is getting into.”
RPD “is dedicated to hiring the best-qualified applicants to serve the community,” Romero says. “We are consistently looking for new and improved ways to recruit. The applicants that we are hiring are the qualified applicants that make it through the process, but being a police officer is not an easy career. It takes commitment, dedication and compassion for those we serve on a daily basis.”
Anyone who thinks he or she has those qualities, as well as the physical and mental requirements to serve Roswell as a member of RPD, is encouraged to apply online at the city’s employment page on its website or learn more about being a police officer by emailing Sgt. Romero or Recruiting Officer Joel Smoyer. Each can also be reached by calling the police department at (575) 624-6770.
PHOTO: Recruiting Sergeant Richard Romero talks to an attendee during RPD’s hiring event at the convention center in January.