INDIANAPOLIS — Small to mid-size police departments are seeing officers jump ship to agencies offering better pay and benefits.
The largest city police department in Indiana, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, is not alone in having to find about 200 people to fill open positions.
The department is undertaking an aggressive recruitment push to attract individuals to law enforcement.
As of today, IMPD has 1,674 officers on the job. The agency is budgeted to have a force of 1,743. So IMPD could hire 69 people right now. New funding through President Biden's federal rescue plan will pay for an extra 100 officers as outlined by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.
Sgt. Michelle Lewis oversees the recruitment unit for the department. Lewis is retiring in 2022 after more than 28 years on the job.
"As long as you want to serve this community, we have the best training. If you rely on your training, you will make great decisions and put the citizen of Indianapolis first," said Lewis.
She doesn't overlook the wear and tear of working the beat. Of the 22 recruits in her class in 1993, only six are still with IMPD, including her husband.
In 2020, Breann Leath, an officer she was mentoring, was killed in the line of duty.
That horrific moment and her overall experiences allow her to share the real deal with those interested in law enforcement.
The shift to attract new recruits is now playing out on social media like YouTube and Twitter. Personal videos and targeted messages seek to find the next generation of officers of all backgrounds.
IMPD is also looking to add women to its ranks.
"I go out of my way to recruit women because I truly believe we bring a different perspective to this agency and to the profession in general," Lewis said.
Starting pay for an IMPD recruit is $53,000. By the third year, pay jumps to $75,000.
The search for more applicants is competitive at a time when police morale is taking a hit with people debating the current role of policing, and demanding more reforms.
Indianapolis has embraced multiple reforms and is spending much more money on public safety.
"We continue to evolve and change," said IMPD Public Information Officer Lt. Shane Foley.
While most violent crimes are down in Indianapolis, homicides are way up and recent officer-involved shootings are reminders that this is a high-risk career.
"We don't want to sell them something that they are not expecting, so we want to be honest and tell them there are dangers on the job but that those benefits of being able to help people are worth the challenges that we face," Foley said.
The competition for people to join police departments is fierce.
Starting salary for officers in the metropolitan area ranges from $40,000 to more than $50,000.
The Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police says pay and opportunities are key to the recruitment process.
The union acknowledges that pay increases in recent years have been positive, but department morale is just as key.
"Until candidates see that this city takes criminal justice, law enforcement, and public safety seriously by holding violent offenders accountable. Why is that important? Because they're risking their lives." said Indy FOP President Rick Snyder. "Nationwide, Rafael, we just saw the latest statistics shows that ambush attacks on law enforcement across our country have increased 103%."