Looking for candidates for the police academy | SierraSun.com

Looking for candidates for the police academy

David Bunker
Sierra Sun
Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunBrenton Schneider, who has been with the Truckee Police Department for five months, checks the computer in his patrol vehicle. The department is having trouble retaining officers, largely due to the local cost of living.
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In January the Truckee Police Department finally reached full staff. That lasted all of four days, according to Truckee police Chief Scott Berry.

Since that time the number of police officers has fluctuated, but always remained below a full staffing level. So to fill the five vacant police officers posts he has now, Berry is now trying a new tack.

“The police department is looking to send a few people to a police academy,” Berry said. “We’ll send them and give them the education they need.”

On July 28 the chief will invite local citizens to hear about the job opportunities with the police department, and hopefully find a couple locals who are interested in going through police academy and becoming a Truckee police officer.

For the police department, it costs $51,000 to get someone with no experience through the academy and onto the street as a sworn officer. But Berry says it is worth it if the department can hire a few locals and stem the turnover rate with the police force.

The high cost of living in town is definitely at the root of the turnover, said Berry. But there are other reasons.

“There are multiple factors. Cost of living is one,” Berry said. Also, “We’re busy but we may not have the heavy calls a young officer might be looking for.”

Nine of the department’s 20 officers live outside of Truckee. Many of those officers live in Reno, and officers have left the police force for Nevada law enforcement jobs before, he said.

“The factor is they get a little more for their money in Reno,” Berry said.

The police department is not the only town department struggling with this issue. Recently the Truckee Town Council voted to bump up building inspectors salaries after two inspectors, which equaled 40 percent of the inspection workforce, left for more lucrative jobs.

“In building inspection there are a lot of jobs and not that many individuals trained to fill them,” said Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook. “We at least wanted to be a little more competitive in our direct market.”

Lashbrook said housing prices is one issue that may spur turnover. Another is the harsh winters in Truckee. With a decision to hire local citizens, the police department will not have to wonder whether the new officers want to live in Truckee.

“I think that Chief Berry is shifting to ‘let’s find people that are already here and want to be here,'” Lashbrook said.

The Truckee Police Department works off of a philosophy of “community policing.” The idea behind this law enforcement strategy is that local citizens in their neighborhoods, whether sworn officers or not, are a large part of keeping the peace.

But its hard to enact community policing when almost half of your officers live out of town, said Berry.

“When you talk community policing you want someone who lives here,” he said. “That’s a big part of community policing.”

At the job fair, Berry will be looking for locals who want to fit into the community policing style of peace keeping.

“I want people that have that passion to serve,” said Berry. “Not passion to arrest people, but passion to serve.”

When the police department hired Arnie Lopez a year and a half ago, they didn’t have to bring him up to speed on town matters. Lopez, who had already gone through police academy, was raised in Truckee.

Lopez also speaks Spanish, a valuable tool on a force that has only one other Spanish-speaking officer.

Lopez says that locals who are contemplating a career change should check out the police department, and another Spanish-speaking officer would be welcome in the department.

“I love it,” said Lopez of his job. “It’s one of the those jobs that I wake up every morning and say, ‘I want to go to work.'”