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Police departments fight expanding economy and policing climate to find recruits

Posted at 8:53 PM, Nov 16, 2017

Right now, police departments across the country are looking for recruits to fill open positions. But that's proving to be easier said than done. 

Justis Nelson has months to go before he trades in the classroom of the police academy for the streets of real policing. But he can't wait.

"Maybe it may be one interaction that I have a somebody that they thank me for or may have changed their life or maybe their perspective of police officers in general," Nelson says. "So that's what I'm looking forward to."

Nelson is one of 52 new recruits at the Denver Police Department, the largest class they've had in more than a decade. And that's not by chance. Police departments across the country are finding it hard to fill these seats.

"It's actually a national trend for police," says Commander Rick Kyle with the Denver Police Department Training Division. "Departments all over the country are struggling to fill vacancies. Departments around the country are several hundred officers short of where they should be as far as their authorized strength goes."

Experts say the current climate of policing has played a role in the decline, but commander Kyle says that's not the only factor.

"I think the biggest challenge is actually the economy being good," Commander Kyle says. "When the economy is good and unemployment is low there's a lot of job opportunities for people out there."

So it becomes a recruiting battle between police departments, working to offer competitive pay, better benefits, and extra incentives not many other departments offer.

"One of the benefits that we have here is that we pay you to go to the academy and to get post certified," says Denver Police Department Recruiter Christopher Aviata. "And the opportunities that the Denver Police Department offers as far as moving up vertically and laterally are second to none."

Then it's a matter of getting the word out. Police departments are even traveling to recruit candidates from across the country, advertising and using social media.

For Nelson, he was willing to move to a state he loves to seal the deal.

"We enjoy Colorado," Nelson says. "Denver Police Department has a lot of opportunities and we just love being here. I like snow. Surprisingly coming from Texas I like snow."

Using climate and staying competitive, to keep the seats filled and the streets safe.