As latest Police Academy graduates, Mobile still struggles with officer shortage

As latest Police Academy graduates, Mobile still struggles with officer shortage

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – The city’s 70th Police Academy graduated on Friday, but the 10 new recruits will hardly make a dent in the officer shortage that has plagued the department in recent years.

The Mobile Police Department faces many of the same hiring challenges that other employers face, and it’s a difficult and dangerous job. At Friday’s ceremony at the Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Police Chief Paul Prine referred to the two officers in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, who lost their lives in the line of duty this week.

Mobile’s academy class started with 19 recruits, but lost nine during training.

“And I think that’s just a testament to a lot of the recruiting challenges that we have, not just here locally, but across the country,” Prine told FOX10 News. “You know, many men or women, they enter the profession without knowing what is expected. And as they learn and go through the process, they realize it’s not for them.”

One of those new officers, Jonathan Rodgers, said it wasn’t the pay that drew him to the job — it was a lifelong desire to serve.

“Instead of watching cartoons growing up, I kind of watched ‘Cops,'” he said.

Rodgers said the 20-week academy program was grueling.

“It was really long. (It’s) really pretty rigorous academically, and it’s also a good physical challenge,” he said.

Mobile cut 72 officers from its authorized strength of 488. Prine said that’s a slight improvement since the city in April raised starting pay and offered cash incentives to Police Academy graduates. With those incentives, starting patrol officers now earn more than $50,000 a year, up from $32,000.

“We have a long way to go,” he said. “But some of the things we do internally in relation to leadership and management training; certainly the third academy that we now offer every year – at some point, you know, we see ourselves catching up.”

Aside from the pay and inherent dangers of police work, Prine said, it takes a long time for new officers to be ready to hit the streets. He noted that the recruits who took their oath on Friday have completed 20 weeks of training but still have more training ahead of them. They will be paired with experienced officers for another three weeks before being readjusted to patrol alone.

Meanwhile, police departments have to contend with the constant turnover of employees – for various reasons.

“We’re definitely losing officers to other departments, or even to the private sector,” he said. “But we also lose some, unfortunately, three terminations and, unfortunately, through retirement.”

Losing nearly half of the youngest academy class is an “anomaly,” Prine said. He added that the class starting in January will have 34.

“Going forward, the idea is to hold on to the officers we have and then move forward with recruiting new recruits,” he said.

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