And so far, they’ve only found a few.
Late last month, in an effort to entice more applicants for jobs as police officers, the Police Department held a public safety open house at the Justin Sollohub Justice Center. The event was used to welcome the department’s seven most-recent hires, and also gave anyone interested in working for the department a chance to look around.
Unfortunately, according to police Capt. Allen George, only six to eight people showed up.
Since the late 1990s the nation has seen a decrease in the number of people interested in becoming police officers. A 2006 article on police officer recruitment published in Police Chief Magazine said an estimated 80 percent of the nation's 17,000 law enforcement agencies had positions they could not fill. A separate report, Hiring and Keeping Police Officers, published in 2004 by the National Institute of Justice said 20 percent of agencies experienced officer weakness as a result of recruitment and fiscal problems.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects detective and police officer employment to increase by 7 percent over the next seven years, slower than the average for all occupations.
“I don’t know if it’s just law enforcement isn’t appealing to people or what, but we’ve definitely seen a decrease in numbers in the past 20 years,” said George.
George said that when he first applied to the department in 1992 there were about 300 other applicants there with him. Only 80 people applied for the department’s 12 open patrol positions earlier this year, according to police Lt. Nicholas Bowles, who is in charge of training and inspections for the department.
Bowles said only 24 applicants passed the Civil Service Board test and of those only seven were hired.
Though local police officials do not have a definite answer as to why police officer recruitment is so difficult, they believe it may have something to do with the low salary.
“That’s one of your reasons for recruitment problems right there,” said Anniston police Chief Shane Denham, who said, on average, patrol officers make a base salary of $29,000.
“Most of our guys work three to five off duty jobs just to make a quality standard of living,” Denham said. “If you’re a single guy, you make a decent living but if you’re a family man you’re barely scraping by.”
Both Denham and retired Anniston police investigator Mike Fincher said low recruitment numbers may also have something to do with applicants themselves.
Society and the people in it have changed, they said.
According to Fincher, the requirements and demands to become a police officer now are much harder than they were when he became an officer in the 1970s. Applicants weren’t required to go through an academy or take a physical test, both of which are now requirements, he said.
“The bar that was set at one period of time in history may not fit the next level of history,” he said.
Fincher said another possibility for low recruitment is that a majority of people have never experienced military life. Fincher said World War II and the draft may have been catalysts for higher recruitment levels during his police years.
“When the war ended a lot of those guys went into that type of work,” Fincher said. “So many men nowadays don’t have a clue.”
Both Fincher and Bowles said that they don’t know why more Anniston Army Depot workers don’t seem interested in applying for police officer positions.
“When the depot laid people off I thought we would get a surge of applicants with depot and military experience,” Bowles said.
He said he’s also searched on sites such as the one for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, so that he could learn all there is to know about hiring veterans, but so far only a few have applied.
Bowles said that aside from trying to hire veterans the department has set up career day booths at Jacksonville State University, bought advertising space in newspapers, made recruitment videos and used social media sites like Facebook to let people know about job openings.
“We get a lot of responses from Facebook,” he said.
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.