Smaller police departments struggle with staff, applicant shortages

Universal City police say times have changed, they're adjusting

UNIVERSAL CITY, Texas – Police departments nationwide are reporting shortages in staff and applicants, and the San Antonio region is no exception. Smaller departments said they're struggling the most as they compete with bigger cities for applicants.

Sgt. Tina Vitacco has worked at the Universal City Police Department for 14 years.

"We have quite a few officers who have been here for quite some time," Vitacco said.

But many other officers are in and out through a revolving door.

"We are seeing a big issue with retention for officers and in recruiting. Not a lot of people want to be a police officer anymore, with the things that are going on in the public and the public perception," Vitacco said.

The Universal City Police Department is looking to hire one patrol officer, but last year, during a 6-month period, the agency had five openings.

"Smaller agencies like us — Live Oak, Selma, Shertz, Cibolo, Converse, Alamo Heights — they're all having the same issues we are," Vitacco said.

She said the applicant pool just isn't what it used to be.

"Either because they don't want to get into law enforcement or they're just not qualified," Vitacco said.

Fewer applicants does not mean lower standards.

"Absolutely not," Vitacco said. "They have to have a good, clean background, They have to be motivated. They have to know what the job entails. Not just anybody can do this job. It's very stressful."

Vitacco said the rewarding career is worth it every day.

"When you have a victim who's been traumatized severely and you can help them get justice, it's just a great, great thing," she said with a smile.

She hopes anyone who has ever felt inspired to protect others will follow their hearts.

"Go for it. Do it. It's the best job ever," Vitacco said.

Vitacco is part of the recruiting team, and visits job fairs and training academies to keep up with possible recruits.

She said there are perks to working in a small department.

"You deal with everything. You could be dealing with a traffic accident one minute, and the next minute, you're responding to a family disturbance or a shoplifting. And I think that makes a well-rounded, well-versed officer," Vitacco said. "Bigger agencies, there are lots of departments, so you're focused on one thing."

She said some small agencies across the country struggle to pay well and that can be a deterrent.

"We do pay very well. We have a lot of nice equipment. Vehicles are all new. Everything is up to date," she said. "It's not a sleepy little city. We work a lot of different incidents."

Anyone interested in joining the Universal City Police Department can call 210-658-5353.


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