SAN ANTONIO – With openings in the jail, on patrol, and in court security, Atascosa County Sheriff David Soward says it has been harder to fill open positions in the past year than it used to be.
“The problem has been just getting qualified applicants,” Soward said. “You know, sometimes you can get applicants, but we do a pretty thorough background check, and sometimes applicants don’t make it through the background check. So the quality of applicants has certainly dropped off, as well as the quantity of them.”
He’s far from the only one looking to fill his ranks. A quick look through Facebook posts alone shows the Comal County Sheriff’s Office, Cibolo Police Department, Kerrville Police Department, and New Braunfels Police Department are -- or recently were -- all trying to hire uniformed personnel. And the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has been especially vocal about trying to fill vacancies.
Charley Wilkison, the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), a law enforcement union with affiliates around Texas, says there’s a statewide shortage of law enforcement officers. That’s due to people leaving the profession and others not joining in the first place, he says.
It’s a recent trend Wilkison largely attributes to the more critical views of police that have become more prevalent in the past year, which has chipped away at the prestige the job used to carry.
“So we lost that one thing in law enforcement that we had going for us, and that was the character, honor, and service that officers felt that they were bringing to do that job into their lives,” Wilkison said.
Without that, Wilkison says, law enforcement becomes “just a job” while still carrying the same dangers.
“If that same kid coming out of college today, if that same young person that has all these education and qualifications and -- or just graduated high school -- they have to ask themselves, ‘Can I make more in the private sector, and can I have the respect and the less risk in the end?’” Wilkison said. “So this is a volatile market for labor unless you’re sure that’s what you want to do, and departments are doing everything they can to attempt to bring in.”
Not everyone has the same view. Cibolo Police Sgt. Homero Balderas is in charge of recruiting for his department and says he hasn’t noticed a drop in the cadets at the two local training academies from which he primarily recruits.
However, Balderas says, he has noticed there is more competition with other departments trying to hire them, which he attributes to cities and, in turn, their police departments growing and adding positions.
“So when you have the same number of cadets in these full classes, but all these agencies adding more people, whether it’s two people or 10 people, it’s really going to stretch that pool thin,” Balderas said.
That competition can make things more difficult for the smaller departments.
Balderas said the Cibolo Police Department is in the middle of doing a salary survey to have a better idea of how competitive it is compared to other departments.
Soward says the Atascosa County Sheriff’s Office used to be more competitive in terms of pay, but county revenues have dropped off. He has asked county commissioners to consider giving him more money to boost pay. In the meantime, he says newly-minted peace officers will shop around for the best opportunities and concentrate on the higher-paying jobs.
“It used to not be that way as much, but the people now they come out -- coming out, are more, looking for the top dollar,” Soward said.
Just like him, other sheriffs and police chiefs are looking for top candidates.