Hard to fill law enforcement jobs

The challenge of finding the right people to fill law enforcement positions is getting more difficult. Sheriff Mike Allen said sheriffs and chiefs of police across the state agree that hiring and training are the toughest challenges they face.

It was a subject for discussion at a recent sheriffs and chiefs meeting in Ely that Allen attended."It seems like we're all having the same challenges with hiring," he said. "It's very difficult to get qualified applicants who can get through background checks and training."

Allen said the local sheriff's office gets enough applicants. "Particularly when the economy is down, we get a lot of applicants, because law enforcement is a stable job. We're getting applicants but they can't pass the background checks."

Winnemucca Chief of Police Eric Silva estimated only about 20 to 30 percent of those who apply for law enforcement positions with the police department are able to pass the written and physical test. Of those who do, only about one in five make it through the background check.

"A lot of times, it's not even what's in their background that causes them not to pass; it's that they withhold information," said Silva. The fact that applicants don't come clean is enough to disqualify them; often the information the applicant failed to disclose would not have disqualified them.

The challenges don't stop there.

"We recently hired someone who qualified through testing and made it through the background check but didn't finish the [Peace Officers and Standards Training POST] academy," Silva said. "The academy is very difficult. It's 16 weeks away from home and a lot of information is crammed into those 16 weeks. It's very stressful."

The POST Academy is a paramilitary environment. "Some people don't cope with that well in today's world," Deputy Chief Bill Dalley said.

After POST, a new hire still has fourteen weeks of on-the-job training with a certified field training officer, which some people aren't able to complete, Dalley said. "Sometimes we're not the most popular people on the street," Dalley said. "We don't see people at their best. They're victims, witnesses or suspects and under that stress, they're often not themselves."

Sometimes the challenge is as simple as the difference between what a law enforcement job really is — compared to the fantasy a child has when he or she wants to be a fireman or policeman. The stress and conflict in the environment can be tough.

Even the boredom and the challenge of keeping up with reports get to some. One sheriff's deputy commented recently that he'd never had any idea how many "essays" he'd have to write as part of his law enforcement paperwork.

One result of the hiring challenges may be more law enforcement opportunities for women. Both Winnemucca Police Department and Humboldt County Sheriff's Office have more women than in past years.

"We have three women in the POST academy right now being trained," said Sheriff Allen. "They're doing an outstanding job; they're phenomenal."

While finding qualified applicants and getting them through all the training takes from a year to a year and a half, it's worth waiting for the right person.

Despite the challenges, both Silva and Allen said their law enforcement units are top notch.