When Capt. Bill Glasgo started his career with the Pacifica Police Department 25 years ago, the department had 44 sworn officers on staff. This year it has 33 — and five of those positions are vacant. Three have been unfilled for nearly a year.
“Law enforcement in the area and throughout the nation is struggling to retain officers,” said Glasgo. That is an assessment supported by a 2021 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum that found an 18 percent increase in resignations and a 45 percent increase in retirements in the surveyed departments between 2019 and 2021.
Pacifica’s department avoided vaccination-related resignations during COVID-19, said Glasgo. Such departures had a significant effect on some police and fire agencies, but Pacifica did not require its public safety staff to be vaccinated.
Upcoming retirements will likely thin the department’s ranks further. “These are people with 25-plus years of experience,” Glasgo said. “It’s hard to replace that.”
Hiring a new officer can take a year and a half from job listing to full final employment. Once a candidate has been identified and selected via interview, hiring still involves a background check, medical and psychological exams, drug screening and a one-year probation period. First-time officers must attend at least 664 hours of basic police training.
The department advertises for new recruits in the usual ways, through social media, employment websites, posters and flyers. “We used to get plenty of candidates that way,” said Glasgo, “but applicant levels have gone down dramatically.” The department recently held an interview fair where they expected 11 candidates, but only seven showed up.
A report from the U.S. Department of Justice community policing arm cites changes in public attitudes toward law enforcement as driving both retention and hiring difficulties. In addition, “fewer people are qualified to meet the rigid standards of becoming a police officer, such as those relating to drug use, debt, obesity and even tattoos and facial hair,” it says.
The Pacifica department’s hiring efforts are affected by the pay packages it’s able to offer. Glasgo says officer pay is 20 percent below the average compensation for area police agencies. Nor does Pacifica offer signing bonuses, as some other agencies do. Those can be substantial. The city of Alameda recently offered $75,000, and it was $30,000 for successful candidates to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. Pacifica has lost potential hires to more attractive financial offers, Glasgo says.
Difficulty recruiting qualified candidates has been seen in other city departments. City Manager Kevin Woodhouse also says there is a roughly 20 percent differential in pay between city jobs here and in equivalent communities nearby. Budget cuts over the years have held down both salaries and staffing levels. To overcome the compensation gap, interviewers tout Pacifica’s organizational culture and Coastside location. For the police, Glasgo says the “overwhelming community support” is an important selling point.
Tight staffing affects the department’s operations. Although Glasgo says there have been no reductions in service, the department has had to shuffle its resources. Officers who once worked full time doing detective work, crime prevention, traffic control and school resource work have been reassigned to basic patrol duties. The department also makes use of overtime to fill holes.
“Even when we’re fully staffed, that’s our minimum staffing level,” said Glasgo. Any kind of absence, whether due to sickness, vacation, training or court appearances, must get covered by someone else working overtime.
During the pandemic, the department streamlined some tasks; for example, residents can now file police reports via a self-serve, online system.
“The community has great expectations for the level of service we provide,” said Glasgo, but the department is struggling to maintain that with its current staff.
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