Recent news stories have focused on the fact that while our city continues to grow at a record pace, there have also been a growing number of vacancies in police officer positions. The Express-News has reported that the officer to resident ratio has decreased in recent years and is now the sixth worst year for the department in the last 15 years. Mike Helle, president of the San Antonio Police Officer’s Association, notes that San Antonio’s police force is 238 officers short of its authorized strength of 2,407 police officers.
While the proposed 2018 city budget does allocate funding for an additional 40 officers, Helle says that adding more positions will not necessarily solve the problem. He believes that the primary solution lies more in better recruitment strategy. In other words, if the force can’t find the recruits it needs, having money set aside for more officers may not help close the gap. The police department does engage in recruiting, but effective recruiting can be challenging. For one thing, it has to keep pace with retirements, which happen consistently year after year, whether or not the department has had a successful recruiting year or not. Secondly, the police academy is rightfully rigorous, and not everyone who applies to be a police officer can become one. And finally, San Antonio has to compete with police departments in other cities with regard to wages, benefits, bonuses, and quality of life.
What’s needed is a robust recruiting effort. While the city does recruit outside of San Antonio, there is more that can be done. First, good wages and benefits will ensure San Antonio can attract and keep quality officers in our community. Next is stepping up recruiting and doing the kind of effective and comprehensive outreach necessary to ensure that quality men and women from San Antonio and all around the country see our police department as one they want to join and see our city as a great place to live and raise a family. Good recruiting takes time. It may take several years to get to the point we need to be, but making a commitment now to an effective recruiting strategy is a great way to start.
It’s important to note that while there is a police shortage in our city, our men and women in blue are still on the job everyday doing everything they need to do to keep you and your family safe. This upcoming city budget debate will be an ideal time for members of the city council to have a good and honest discussion about police staffing requirements and ways we can fill the existing vacancies to ensure the continued safety of our community.