Prospective police: The choice is yours

Every police department in San Mateo County is hiring — and while that may be good news for job-seekers, it’s not such good news for police agencies trying to keep their cities safe.

Police departments across the county have been hit by a triple-whammy: The oldest officers are retiring, mid-career officers are moving to jobs closer to home and newrecruits are hard to come by, in part because it’s tough to find young people with no criminal background or drug history, said South San Francisco police Lt. Mike Newell.

Those job openings can leave agencies scrambling to recruit and compete for new officers. Recently, the county’s police chiefs made an agreement to stop playing tug-of-war over rookie officers, said San Carlos Police Chief Greg Rothaus.

“There’s two ways to go about [recruiting officers]. There’s the cutthroat way — just grab them,” Rothaus said. “The other is to find out where the applicant prefers to be, and ask [police departments] to focus all of their eggs there.”

By determining a rookie officer’s preferred location, police departments won’t be able to fight over recruits, and taxpayers in multiple cities aren’t paying for the background checks on those recruits, Rothaus added.

Officer shortages vary. In San Mateo, where a full staff is 115 sworn officers, the department is short six officers and has eight more retiring in 2008. South City, where a full staff is 79, is down six and expecting six retirements this year.

Making up for the unfilled slots means paying for overtime and putting desk officers out on patrol, Newell said.

A number of factors can convince a new cadet to pick one city over another: a police department’s reputation, the variety of assignments, location, whether or not the department pays for the recruit’s police-academy training, as well as salary and benefits, Rothaus said. Once a cadet is hired, that city’s police department usually pays to put him or her through the police academy — binding that officer to a specific city.

But small, low-paying departments such as Menlo Park are hard pressed to afford and hold on to its new officers, Menlo Park Police Det. Jeff Keegan said. Menlo Park pays officers $5,967 to $7,253 per month. Redwood City offers $7,065 to $8,587 per month, according to CalOpps.org, a site used to recruit new workers.

“The only thing that can address [parity among agencies] is making sure agencies pay a market wage,” Keegan said.

Final destination for graduates

The College of San Mateo’s police academy is getting ready to graduate nearly 50 new police officers at the end of February. Here’s who’s going where:

» San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department: 7

» San Mateo Police Department: 6

» San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office: 5

» Menlo Park: 4

» South San Francisco Police Department: 3

» San Bruno Police Department: 3

» Daly City, Hillsborough, Colma, Burlingame, Millbrae and Palo Alto police departments: 2 each

» Brisbane, Foster City, Belmont, Pacifica, Redwood City and Milpitas police departments: 1 each

Source: College of San Mateo Police Academy

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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