As National Police Week begins, law enforcement agencies in the Triangle say they're encouraged by a decrease in the number of officer and deputy vacancies. Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson says RPD currently has about 100 vacancies a marked improvement over the past couple of years -- and she expects that number to drop even more.
"Our staff is looking better. We're still sitting on about a hundred vacancies, but we have our new recruits that just graduated two weeks ago. We have another recruit class that's in session and one that's going to be starting in July. And that class is going to be a large class," Patterson said.
It's a similar story with the Triangle's two largest Sheriff's offices, as both Wake and Durham counties continue to bring on new members to gradually offset the glaring vacancies they've had of late. Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead says, despite the encouraging data, the area's recent growth has made keeping up a challenge.
Any law enforcement professional, CEO, sheriff, chief, will tell you we can not wait to hire," Birkhead said. "We need to keep pace with the growth. We're planning right now for some expansion in the Research Triangle Park. We've been in conversation with them. So, it's incumbent on us to plan five years out."
Birkhead said while he expects fewer than 10 deputy vacancies come August, his office remains "woefully understaffed" when it comes to Detention Officers. The DCSO is holding a hiring event for Detention Officers this week. He says an aging force and attractive career alternatives remain a threat to recruitment.
"Again, we have to keep in mind that we are still having natural attrition," Birkhead said. "Folks are retiring, folks are going into different careers because the opportunity presents itself in this climate. So, we have to prepare for that as well."
While the DCSO and RPD both train their own officers, many departments -- from smaller agencies to RPD -- also rely on Basic Law Enforcement Training at schools like Wake Tech to help fill in the gaps.
"We do partner with our agencies -- our smaller agencies and municipalities to help get the word out in recruiting. They also reach out to us as well to see if we have vacancies within our program because we are the academy for those local departments," said Jon Gregory, Dean of Public Safety Training for Wake Tech.
Gregory says current enrollment for BLET at Wake Tech remains consistent with their targets.
Some of those smaller departments, like Garner Police, say they're only seeing a handful of shortages but are actively trying to create new positions as they see a rapid rise in population.
"For right now it hasn't impacted us as much as it will 5, 10 years from now if we don't add those supplemental officers if we don't get them on board before that happens," said Captain Chris Adams.
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