Merriam is taking steps to confront the effects of a growing problem – regionally and nationally – to attract new officers to law enforcement. “It is increasingly hard to hire police officers,” Merriam Police Chief Mike Daniels told the city council this week.
The council approved a request to allow the department to hire above its authorized staffing level in the hopes of coming closer to having a full complement of officers on the streets. The department is authorized for a staffing level of 30, but was given permission to hire above the staffing levels by up to two employees.
When he started on the job 29 years ago, Daniels said, 100 candidates applied for one job. Most recently the department posted two job openings and had 15 people apply.
“This is a nationwide problem,” said Mayor Ken Sissom. The mayor was formerly the police chief in Merriam and is now director of the Johnson County Regional Police Academy. Everyone is competing for new officers, Sissom said. “I stood at the podium with the same request … a few years ago and was turned down.”
The department data for the last 10 years shows that it loses about three officers, or 10 percent of the force, each year. The hiring process, academy training and field training takes nine months until a new hire is ready to ready to patrol the city alone. Some of those departures are due to retirements where the salary for the departing officer is substantially higher than the new hire.
Daniels said by increasing the authorized hiring level to 32, the department hopes to stay at 29 working officers.
“I would definitely rather see you with an extra officer than short one,” Councilor Jim Wymer said.
A number of theories have been presented on why police departments are facing such a shortage, Daniels said.