SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Springfield’s attempt to fill more than 50 open positions within its police force is beginning to pay off thanks to several recent recruiting efforts.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams says the department has seen a steady decrease in applicants over the past two years. Compounding that, Williams says several officers have chosen to retire or leave the force in 2021.
The Springfield Police Department began a three-year recruitment plan this year with hopes of attracting more applicants.
So far the plan has consisted of raising the pay for its officers and recruits, allowing some visible tattoos, and reducing the college credit requirement from 60 to 30 hours, among other efforts.
“All those things together, our goal was to increase incrementally in the last three years, just get us back to the number of applicants we’ve averaged the last eight years, which is about 450 every year. Last year we had 205.”
Chief Williams says he believes those measures have resulted in the hiring of at least 20 new recruits for its academy class coming set to begin in January.
“I think our efforts are already paying dividends, like I said, because that class that was supposed to be 20, I think it could be 25.”
On Monday, City Council also approve a measure to allow officers who retired with 25 years of service to reapply for the force, and if rehired, could receive a pension and salary at the same time.
Williams says the approval won’t be a cure-all the staffing shortages the department is facing, but it will help in the long term.
Despite having more recruits in the upcoming academy than expected, the Chief says over the next few months, the department will still have more than 50 vacancies until the soon-to-be officers are fully trained by late 2022.
“It takes 6 months in the academy, 3 months of field training, so fully staffed on the day the academy starts because recruits count, unfortunately, are in our authorized strength, even though they are not police officers, they are on the payroll,” says Williams. “We seem like we only have 26 vacancies then if we have 25 today, but we’re still really down 51 people, until 9 months from now.”
To offset the ongoing burden, Williams says beginning the first of the year, all patrol officers will begin working 12 hours shifts.
“The major thing we’re doing in January is we’re moving to 12 hours shifts for all patrol officers. They’re burned out right now, so trying to provide that help for them, while also provide better or continued service to the public and let it get any worse than it is now.”
Chief Williams says he hopes the shortages will be resolved by the time the three-year recruitment plan ends in 2024, but it will depend on how many officers the department can recruit and retain in 2022 and 2023.
“The Springfield community is absolutely wonderful to live in, regardless of what you’re doing, but for policing, it doesn’t get any better environment in the country.”
Williams says anyone interested in becoming an officer can begin applying now for the next academy class scheduled for August 2022.