Bay Area Police Hiring Again
KQED's Stephanie Martin: Bay Area police departments are hanging out their help wanted signs. The San Jose Mercury News surveyed 13 of the region's largest police agencies, including San Francisco, San Jose and the California Highway Patrol, and found they are all recruiting again after years of layoffs and hiring freezes. Joshua Melvin was the lead reporter on the story. Thanks for joining us.
Joshua Melvin: Well, Thanks! Good to be here.
Martin: Joshua, your reporting uncovered plans to hire 480 officers this year across 13 departments. Can you put that number into perspective for us? Is that a large number?
Melvin: Yes, after the cuts we saw through the recession, it's certainly a significant amount of hiring. But it's important to note that these folks that are coming on, if all of them do make it through training and through the academy and through the temptation of going through other agencies, they will not fill the gap left by the folks who are gone, or who have been laid off or moved on since 2008.
Martin: Who's done the most hiring?
Melvin: I would say the CHP has had the largest events. I mean they've had events where literally thousands of people have turned up. Contra Costa Sheriff has done quite a bit of hiring, too. San Francisco and San Jose are also bringing in a lot of people. I think San Jose is looking at bringing in 100 or so folks this year; San Francisco is looking at about 150; Oakland about 110. At least in terms of the number of people they're planning on hiring this year, those are the biggest numbers.
Martin: Over the last five years a lot of police departments have cut their specialty units -- traffic units and investigative units, for example. Will these hires help restore that kind of service?
Melvin: The short answer is yes. But, for example, if we took San Jose, their staffing was about 1,400 officers in 2008. It is down to 993 now. There have been myriad cuts along the way, and like I said earlier, they are anticipating 108 new hires this year. Well, that's not obviously going to bring them back to where they were, so a lot of the things that were cut aren't going to be restored immediately, or ever. What San Jose is looking at doing is that these officers will probably be towards patrol, which is kind of the backbone of the police department. Patrol is the officers out on the street responding to calls, driving around in cars, walking around, actually visible. For other departments there will be, where the cuts have been less -- the impacts on those specialty services might be greater. Palo Alto said they're hoping that bringing back some more officers could help them resurrect their traffic unit. San Francisco said that extra officers will mean the ability to do undercover drug operations. I don't know if they've stopped doing them entirely, but it will improve that ability. Daly City said that they used to have eight community service officers who handled everything from helping kids at schools to dealing with complaints from neighborhoods. Well, they had eight cops at one point doing that. Now they're down to two. They're hoping some of this new blood will help beef up the staffing in that community service part of their operation.
Martin: Your report also indicates that competition for open positions is really fierce right now. Describe for us what it's like out there for people who have been waiting for the opportunity to join one of these 13 departments.
Melvin: Well I think we've got two things colliding. The job market is still really tight. We've still got pretty high unemployment in California and in the United States. When a job like this, that offers security, benefits, pay, that people can live on, they're obviously very interested in it. So, there's that. But there's also these jobs have been so very difficult to get for so long. The CHP went years without having a major recruitment. So did some other big cities in the Bay Area. Now that the possibility of getting a job is at least there, they're drawing both the folks who have been frustrated in their efforts to get a police job, but also the folks who are young and just getting out of school or getting started in life who are hoping to land their first job.
Martin: And you've been to some of these recruitment events. What are they like right now?
Melvin: It's pretty incredible. The people seem to be in good spirits. They seem to be kind of cooperative, cheering each other on. I wouldn't say it's a negative vibe at all. It's not the competition that we're talking about. I think it's more just that it's really tough. The people who go to them are really pushing themselves, and they're really trying to stand out because there are so many other people out there and good quality candidates that are up for these jobs.
Martin: Joshua Melvin, thank you.
Melvin: No, thanks, it's great to be here.
Martin: Joshua Melvin is a reporter with the San Jose Mercury News.