Area police and sheriff’s departments struggle to find good new officers as the number of applicants drops.
“In law enforcement, in general, we’ve been having a really difficult time for years trying to get police officers,” said Norfolk Police Chief Don Miller. “With everything going on, and the negative feedback in the media right now, it’s gotten increasingly difficult.”
Recent calls across the country to defund police departments have reduced the number of applicants for law enforcement jobs, Miller said, even in areas where the community supports law enforcement.
“We’re pretty fortunate in Norfolk where we’ve got support of the community, support of the city council, and we’re not dealing with as many of those issues,” Miller said.
There are other factors, though, Miller said. For example, a career in law enforcement can be stressful, and a good economy has made it less desirable.
Miller said the police division sees only a fraction of the number of applicants it did 30 years ago. Recent negative portrayals of law enforcement in national media have brought the number of applicants down even further, Miller said.
Fortunately, the Norfolk Police Division has still been able to find good applicants, Miller said.
“Even though our numbers have been low, we’ve had quality people apply and get selected,” Miller said. “We’ve been very fortunate in that respect.”
In Stanton County, Sheriff Mike Unger faces the same problem, he said.
“In years past, I’ve had upwards of 50, 60 applicants. The last time, I had two,” Unger said. “I didn’t hire either of them.”
Instead, Unger recruited a person he knew to his department, he said.
Unger thinks the perception of law enforcement is the biggest roadblock in finding new officers, he said.
“We do not have the support we did 40 years ago,” Unger said. “I’ve had a hard time telling young people to get in law enforcement anymore. It’s very thankless.”
Unger also believes fewer young people are interested in public service, he said.
The O'Neill Police Department has been looking for a new officer since April, but by mid-October fewer than 10 people had applied, said Chief Matt Otte.
“It’s difficult to get a good pool of applicants,” he said. “I think its part of a trend, in general.”
One solution to the problem is to change the public perception of law enforcement, Unger said.
“I think the way we do that is to educate people that law enforcement is a difficult job,” he said.
Miller said what people see on the news doesn’t always reflect law enforcement’s work.
“The negativity that’s in the national media is not necessarily an accurate depiction of what the career is involved with,” Miller said.
While it’s not always easy, a career in law enforcement can still be rewarding.
“It’s still a great career to have. The pay is fine and the benefits are very good and it’s a way for people to give back to their communities and be part of the solution to helping our communities,” he said. “Even if you’ve never thought about being a police officer in the past, consider it.”