Police recruiting perils after Freddie Gray

Posted at 7:06 PM, Apr 29, 2016
and last updated 2018-12-31 20:25:40-05

Police departments are always looking for good people. Just outside police headquarters in downtown Baltimore, the “We're Hiring” banner for the is bolted to the facade.

It is a constant battle of attrition versus new recruits. In recent years it has been more of a challenge, a trend some blame on the current climate in American policing or the so-called Ferguson Effect.

"This is Baltimore City, this isn't Ferguson and the whole world knows what is going on in policing in the United States. They are absolutely cognizant of what is happening," said sergeant Valencia Nock. 

She's been recruiting for the department for three years. 

ABC2 News obtained the application numbers for the Baltimore police department since 2010. From a high of almost 3,200 applications in 2011, it has dropped each year to a low of just more than 1,100 in 2015; a 65 percent plunge in applicants.

It is a trend police departments say started well before the unrest and traditionally is driven more by the economy, as the economy improves, recruitment typically drops off.

It is when job growth hits the skids that police work is most attractive to many.

"When the economy is doing poorly, people are losing jobs and we are hiring. So we get people here that may have been in the financial industry or anywhere else and they come here because it is a good paying job and we have excellent benefits," said Lieutenant Chris Nyberg.

But the riots of 2015 do seem to have some effect.

Looking closely at last year's numbers, the BPD noticed a slight bump in applicants right after the unrest and more of them saying the riots are why they wanted to apply in the first place.

"More than ever they are really interested in serving especially in Baltimore City. What was highlighted is that there is a need for good officers on the street and our candidates, they want to fill that need," Nock said.

Police Officer in Training Luke Shelley was one of those applicants. He was deployed to the city as a National Guardsman, stationed at Mondawmin Mall. It was an experience that convinced him he wanted to serve the city.

"I want to be where the challenge is and where the need is for good police…to have that impact on countless lives, a hundred or a thousand or whoever you meet on a daily basis, I think is a pretty noble and high responsibility," Shelley said.

Shelley is one of about 30 recruits working their way through the academy now and should be ready to hit the streets in a few months.

But there are other officers, older officers ready to hit those streets running.

Lieutenant Dameon Carter took advantage of Commissioner Kevin Davis' new plan to lure back retired officers who left on good standing.

With 21 years on the job, Carter put his papers in just before the riots last year but stayed through July to help.

Less than six months after his retirement, he felt he needed to come back.

"You're always going to be able to find reasons why things didn't go the way they should, but if you are not willing to come back and add to the knowledge that you have, then you are just standing in the crowd complaining. Don't be in the crowd, be in the fight," Carter said.

The lieutenant says the fight for him is to help the community and the department heal from the riots of last year. He says he did his 20 and has his pension. He is here this time because he wants to be and believes there are others ready to do the same.

"There are some guys who were doing some remarkable things that when regimes changes, whether it be the commissioner or the mayor, they were kind of forced out of their positions and had to go other places. I would love to see some of those guys come back," Carter said.

According to the BPD, Carter is one of two retirees who have been reinstated with another 20 in the pipeline.

The department is trying to counter a national trend by attracting old and new officers drawn to the work.

"It is my hope that in being back that I can be a conduit between the police department and the citizens," Carter said.

The applicant numbers so far this year are on pace with last year's

Only about 5 to 7 percent of applicants actually make it to the police academy. On average, Baltimore Police lose about 19 officers a month to attrition and hire 15.

Another surprise in the most recent pool of applicants is diversity, so far this year, the department has attracted 85 percent more minorities over this time last year.

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