N.C. Police Department Sees Spike in Officer Applications

May 3, 2024
More competitive salaries, among other strategies, have helped boost interest in officer applications for the Greensboro Police Department, according to officials.

GREENSBORO, NC — The police department has seen a sharp increase in applications after a worrisome few years where officers were leaving faster than they could be replaced.

It's part of a national trend at many law enforcement agencies as they — and their reputations — try to rebound from the murder of George Floyd and a number of high-profile miscues, which resulted in a mass exodus of officers in departments across the country.

But not anymore. According to one survey, more officers were hired in 2023 than during the last four years while fewer resigned or retired.

In Greensboro, the department in 2023 was reeling from 80 vacancies and a troubling number of homicides. The outlooked appeared bleak in replacing them.

Now, better pay, among other strategies, has helped boost interest.

Consider that the department hosts two academies annually, and for last year's 114th and 115th academies, the department received 407 and 470 applications.

By comparison, for the 116th police academy which began on March 20, there were 613 applications.

Capt. Justin Flynt said the increase isn't a one-off: The department has already received 503 applications for the 117th academy, which begins in September.

Given how much time is left in the current application window — which closes May 31 — Flynt said the police department is "on track to match or do better" than the number of recruits who applied to the 116th academy.

The academy can train only a maximum of 44 recruits for each class, so it's going to take some time to fill the 80 vacancies the police department had at the end of 2023.

"People think, well, you've got 600 applications, just hire 200 people. Your problem's solved. But you have to have classroom space," explained Flynt, who oversees the Resource Management Division, which is responsible for recruitment and hiring.

And then there's the extremely selective process that often results in fewer than 44 recruits being chosen.

As part of that process, applicants must pass a two-part physical abilities test, complete two psychological assessments and then undergo an extensive background check — just for starters.

Couple this with the fact that the department's training takes 1,052 hours to complete — well above the 640-hour minimum required by the state — and it's to be expected that some recruits will drop out.

Completing the academy training takes around six months and graduates are then required to ride with a training officer for 14 weeks before patrolling solo.

"So, you're somewhere around nine months between the time you hire them and the time they're actually out there themselves," Flint said.

Still, it's a good problem for Greensboro to have these days. It's not easy being a law enforcement officer. The profession has taken a number of hits ranging from the Floyd killing to locally the tragedy of Marcus Smith, a homeless man who died while in Greensboro police custody during 2018.

Now, things seem to be changing for the better.

Flynt attributes the rising interest to a combination of factors, including recent increases in starting pay from $46,000 to a little over $57,000 once recruits graduate.

"You're talking almost just short of an $11,000 increase, which is substantial," Flynt said.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said increasing officer pay was something the City Council deliberated intently when members passed the 2023-24 budget last June.

"Not only did we raise starting pay, but there was also a market study looking at all the other ranks in the department and there were significant market adjustments anywhere from 4% to 16% increases throughout the ranks," Vaughan explained.

Lt. Maurice McPhatter said a bigger online presence is another factor behind increased applications for the police academy. Like Flynt, McPhatter also works for the Resource Management Division and supervises officers placed on special recruiting assignments.

"One thing that we've keyed in on here recently is social media, just to push our efforts so we can get the most bang for our buck," McPhatter explained.

McPhatter added that traditional methods like advertising and hiring events are still effective at attracting applicants, but online recruitment has helped the department tap into a younger demographic that's been overlooked in the past.

"We're gearing it to more the younger people who utilize social media on a daily basis," McPhatter said.

Also, the department has diverted more resources toward recruiting. In September, five officers were tasked with improving recruitment. After the recent success, the department has scaled that team down to three officers.

McPhatter said the three travel all over the state to recruit and are especially busy this time of year with many colleges holding job and career fairs for graduating seniors.

"They go out and engage with the community," McPhatter said. "They regularly attend those career fairs and job fairs on a weekly basis."

And when potential recruits come to a hiring event, they're likely to see members of the drone unit, SWAT team or bomb squad.

"So now they not only get to read about it," McPhatter said. "They actually get to see it."

Flynt said he didn't know how much the department could cut into the 80 vacancies left at the end of 2023 but remained optimistic.

"This year we're headed in the right direction," Flynt said. "There's not a quick turnaround to this problem."


(c)2024 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)

Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at www.news-record.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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