By Naheed Rajwani and Tasha Tsiaperas
The Dallas Morning News
Published 25 August 2016
It's an ambitious goal: Dallas wants to hire 549 police officers by next October.
But that may be impossible, some police and City Council members say. The Police Department may not be able to get enough people to apply and meet the rigorous requirements for the job.
Historically, the department has accepted only about 5 percent of applicants — the rest are typically weeded out of the pool.
The department has said it will need 3,700 applicants to hire the 549 officers. This means it would have to accept almost 15 percent of applicants.
So it will probably either have to lower its standards, have a lot more applicants, or have more qualified applicants than in the past.
That's why some say the hiring goal is unrealistic.
"It's almost utterly impossible to hire 549 police officers," said Lt. Thomas Glover, president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas. Glover once worked in the personnel division.
The $20 million hiring push is part of the proposed 2017 Dallas budget, which emphasizes raises for first responders and hiring more police officers to replace a larger-than-expected number of officers leaving the department in recent years.
Support for raises and a sharply expanded force has grown among City Council members since the July 7 ambush, in which a gunman killed five police officers.
The department's leaders believe higher starting salaries and more aggressive recruiting will help them meet the goal.
Recruiters plan to visit college campuses, job fairs and military bases to persuade more people to apply. They say they plan to target youth programs and promote job openings on the internet.
The department also plans to hold more on-site testings than usual. Civil service exams, which are a part of the testing, will be given every Monday instead of once a month.
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The Police Department recently added 12 people to the personnel division to help with recruiting.
"We'll be very selective here real soon," Police Chief David Brown told the City Council at an Aug. 17 meeting. "With the higher pay, it puts us in a strong position to hire the 549."
And officials have touted an uptick in applications since the ambush, which came at the end of a downtown protest over the killings of black men around the country by police. Brown issued a public challenge for the protesters to put in applications to become police officers.
In a little more than a month, 812 people applied.
The increase in applications is significant, but unlikely to result in a large number of hirings because most people who show interest is becoming a Dallas police officer don't end up with a job offer.
Cory Morris didn't make the cut.
Morris, 26, is a Dallas native planning to come home from the Army in six months. He took eight days off from his deployment in Hawaii to go to on-site testing for applicants at Dallas police headquarters last week.
Morris was expecting to qualify for the job because of his military background, which he says gave him strict training about when and when not to draw a weapon.
He passed the Dallas department's physical fitness test but was eliminated during the polygraph test.
"I pretty much wasted my money to go fail out," he said.
And the Police Department lost out on another potential candidate.
The big recruiting pools are whittled down in many ways.
They have to show up: About 300 people signed up for last week's testing, but only 155 people actually arrived.
They have to pass: Police said 49 people made it through the first phase, which includes a civil service exam, fitness test, polygraph and an interview. About two dozen are still in this process.
Then they have to pass the background check. It usually takes several weeks or even months.
After that, a few will fail to make it through the police academy.
The end result last year was that there were 3,824 applications, but only 208 hired.
And there are other obstacles.
The department lags far behind other Texas cities in starting pay.
In Dallas, the starting pay is $44,659. In Mesquite, it is $57,489.
The Dallas department also hasn't been hiring officers fast enough to replace the ones who are already leaving, many of whom are going to those higher-paying law enforcement agencies.
The Mesquite Police Department has 231 sworn officers and hopes to hire 19 more this year.
"We're trying, but it's difficult to find somebody who's qualified enough to get the job, who is the same person who wants the job, and who is willing to do that job," said Lt. Brian Parrish, a Mesquite police spokesman.
He said his department has hired one former Dallas police officer so far and is willing to "steal as many Dallas officers as we can." The chief may know where to look: He is former First Assistant Dallas Police Chief Charlie Cato.
The Dallas department projects that 262 officers will leave by the end of the fiscal year in September. Of those, 120 officers have resigned to take jobs elsewhere, more than in past years.
Almost 350 of the 549 the department wants to hire over the next year would just replace officers who are leaving.
The last major hiring effort in Dallas brought in 394 officers in one year in 2008, a far cry from the goal of 549 this year.
"We're all competing for the same good applicant," said Deputy Chief Scott Walton, who is in charge of personnel.
The rank and file wonder if the city can ever catch up to its goal of 2.8 officers per 1,000 residents.
"Now the hole is so deep and so big, we need an extraordinary amount of cops," said Dallas Police Association vice president Michael Mata.
When police officials shared data about recruiting with City Council members during a public safety committee meeting Monday, council member Philip Kingston asked how many of the recruits would make it to the academy.
After hearing how few make the cut, he told Walton, "That sounds to me like we're not on pace to be able to hire 500. Am I being too skeptical?"
"Well, I would say yes because we really haven't talked about what our plans for recruiting are. ... We have a much more aggressive recruiting plan," Walton responded.
Kingston didn't seem convinced.
"I still have questions about whether that's attainable," he said. "In terms of priority, if I'm prioritizing from a public safety standpoint, to me pay seems to be a higher priority than headcount."
That's exactly what Dallas police associations have been telling the City Council: Spend more on raises to retain officers, and focus less on hiring a huge number of new ones.
The police associations say that if the City Council approves the current budget proposal, many more experienced officers will leave the department to work at other agencies with better pay.
The associations are meeting with city officials to negotiate a three-year pay contract. They're asking for across-the-board raises for all officers, while the city's proposed budget only gives raises to about 70 percent of the police force.
The city is planning to spend an additional $8.9 million on raises for first responders and bonus pay for patrol officers next year alone. But Glover says the unrealistic hiring goal is "a smokescreen" designed to put millions more "in a purse" instead of funding raises for all officers.
The lack of competitive pay for experienced officers is a problem Brown brought up while asking council members to consider raises at a recent meeting.
"Our three-year, five-year salaries aren't competitive," he said.
Officers with three years of experience from Dallas can get about $10,000 more from Fort Worth police after completing an abbreviated training there.
The council votes on the final budget in September.
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