South valley police academy sees decline in enrollment, shortage of officers nationwide

KINGS Co., Calif. (KFSN) -- Being a law enforcement officer can be a tough job.

Darrell Smith would know. He was on the force for decades and is the former chief of the Lemoore Police.

He now runs the Tulare-Kings Counties Police Academy at the College of Sequoias.

Over the last few years, he has seen a decline in people looking to join.

"I'm a little bit frustrated because of me being in the career for 30 years," Smith said. "When I joined law enforcement in the 1990s, it was a lot more difficult to get in and a lot more people competing for the positions."

He said in 2017 they had 245 people attending, then 198 in 2018, and 170 in 2019.

Smith mentioned they are always looking for ways to make recruiting easier and the law enforcement career more appealing.

Not only is the academy seeing a decline in enrollment, but nationwide, several agencies are reporting a shortage of officers.

According to the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, in many large cities, including Los Angeles and San Jose, there are now fewer officers per citizen than ten years ago.

Smith says the challenge starts at the recruiting level.

He has a few thoughts on why there has been a decrease, among them, how officers are portrayed.

"For every negative story that they portray on the national media scene, I can tell you a thousand personal stories of astonishing and courageous things that the men and women who protect and serve do on a daily basis, and those narratives aren't being told," he explained.

Smith noted though from a leadership standpoint he's looking to help tell more of those positive stories.

Nate Ferrier with the Kings County Deputy Sheriff's Association, agrees there are many reasons.

He thinks new laws could also be keeping people away from choosing to protect and serve their communities.

"It has to do with politicians out of Sacramento, who continue to pass anti-law enforcement laws and have strong anti-law enforcement rhetoric so as a young person entering a career in law enforcement. I would be thinking twice about that, and I think we are seeing it nationwide," Ferrier said.

Then comes the issue of retaining officers already on the force, that has many agencies offering incentives to officers, trying to get them to stay.

Smith gave an example of one of those incentives. He said Lemoore Police will give you $15,000 towards a down payment if you buy a home within the city.

Ferrier mentioned there have been improvements in the staffing levels at the sheriff's office. Right now they are nearly fully staffed. He credits that to a pay raise.

However, he says they need to continuously be competitive with pay especially since it's becoming harder to recruit.

Tony Botti with the Fresno County Sheriff's Office said the department does see consistent interest. They currently have some vacancies but believe those will soon be filled.

Botti mentioned Fresno City College's police academy is typically full which gives them a good group of people to draw from.
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