Citing a regional shortage of police officers, the city Council last week approved a new classification of police officer recruit as it embarks on paying for candidates to go through the local Police Academy.
Chief of Police Brent Smith said Ceres is finding a "diminished pool of candidates" to become police officers in the area but this also goes with a nationwide phenomenon. Smith said the California Background Investigators Association estimates that there are currently 10,000 sworn peace officer vacancies throughout California.
Modesto and Turlock police departments and the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department have had the recruit classification that allows them to hire and train the highest qualified candidates. Ceres did not have such a classification until last week. The situation put Ceres at a disadvantage to hire officers because, said Chief Smith, "they are already employed by neighboring agencies before the City of Ceres can offer them a job."
"By offering a police recruit position, the city is investing in the recruit by providing him/her with support, guidance, and the necessary equipment to enable success," wrote City Manager Toby Wells in a memo to the council. "The financial burden is removed from the employee and placed on the city, allowing our employee to focus on the academic and technical aspects of the Police Academy."
Recruits will have to commit to three years with the city as they become an officer. To help ensure some return on investment, the city has developed a reimbursement agreement calling for the city to be reimbursed for Academy costs in the event a recruit quits from the Academy or that an officer hired through the Academy sponsorship resigns prior to the end of his three-year commitment.
The city has set a pay rate of the at-will, non-sworn recruit at $4,128 per month, or $23.81 an hour.
Before the concept passed unanimously, Councilwoman Linda Ryno asked why the city wasn't asking for a five-year commitment. Betina McCoy, the city's Human Resources manager, said three years is typical.
"I would think the police chief would want someone to commit to five years versus three," said Ryno. "I mean, wouldn't you hate to spend all that money and basically get them trained and in three years they're leaving?"
Chief Smith said today's younger generation tends to want to change jobs.
"It is a long time for some," said Chief Smith.
It costs the city about $4,000 to send one recruit through the four-month Academy.
Recruits must undergo a full background check before being sent to the Academy.
Smith said the bigger problem is getting space in the Ray Simon Regional Justice Training Center academy. If there is no space for the classes that start in April, recruits would have to wait until September. He said one problem has been losing cadets during the Academy.
"I just don't want them to stop in the middle of the Academy, so that's kind of why we are staying local, trying this Academy here, maybe the one in Stockton," said the chief.
Wells said Ceres would be at a disadvantage requiring a five-year commitment up against neighboring cities of Modesto and Turlock which require only three years.
"I understand completely about recouping those costs but it costs us every time we do a recruitment but it's really about getting the right people in here as quickly as possible," said Wells.
The agreement with the recruit calls for the city to withhold some of the last cash payment to recoup expenses of the Academy.