BROOKINGS – Brookings has its challenges – increases in drug crimes, to name one – but it is a community that is supportive of the law enforcement officers who work to protect its citizens.
Still, being in law enforcement is a tough, thankless job, and it can be difficult at times to find new hires, even here.
There are two positions at the Brookings Police Department that are being advertised right now.
According to Brookings Police Chief Dave Erickson, the trend has been that there are fewer applicants for open positions than there used to be, and that can make things difficult.
“When I was hired 20 years ago, there were 200 applicants for four positions that were open at the time, and the city invited 50 of those 200 to test,” Erickson recalled. “Right now, for an opening here, we’re lucky if we can get 20 people to show up for the test.”
It doesn’t mean that there are any changes in the standards they have in place, however.
“Sometimes we’ll get a group of applicants and nobody meets the standards, so we have to start over again, whereas in the past, we usually had a large enough applicant pool that there was always qualified people in that group,” Erickson said.
At the Brookings County Detention Center, it can be tricky to retain part-time correctional officers. The jail employs six full-time correctional officers, with 12 part-time officers helping fill in the schedule. Most of the part-time staff is comprised of college students.
“If we can keep a part-time person for two years, we figure we’re doing good,” Brookings County Sheriff Marty Stanwick said. Although they look for younger students in order to maximize the training and resources that go into prepping them for their duties, “it never fails we’ll get them their junior or senior year.”
Then they typically move on to find full-time work or find that it’s not what they want to do.
The need for part-time correctional officers will be reduced with the remodeled and expanded jail, however, thanks to the updated design and layout.
In the meantime, as a workaround to the problem of finding part-time help, the sheriff’s office always accepts applications for those spots and holds on to applications from people who applied for a job where someone else was hired. Then when a part-time position does open up, they contact them to see if they’re still interested.
For the police department, the solutions to finding the applicants they need has meant going to job fairs at two-year technical schools and targeted advertising online.
“We’re trying to get a little bit more into social media, reaching younger people,” Erickson said. “We haven’t decided on anything yet, but there’s talk of expanding our recruitment efforts even more because we realize that there’s a limited number of people these days that want to get into this profession and there are a lot of departments that need help. So, we’re competing against other departments, too.”
Not helping any department out is the fact that law enforcement is tough work.
“It requires shift work, working weekends and holidays, being at work during family time and things like that. It’s definitely a job you have to have a passion for and are dedicated to,” Erickson said.
It’s always been a stressful job, but the respect people have for officers continues to decline.
He still feels plenty of community support for his department, but as proud as Erickson is of his officers, what people see happening across the nation can discourage them from going into policing.
Even in a supportive community and with a good department like in Brookings, those widespread perceptions of the disrespect people have for officers, the dangers of the job and the hours are hard to overcome.
“You put all those things together, and I think that’s really the driving force for why we’ve seen a reduction in the number of applicants,” he said.
What he has witnessed in the applications he sees is that more and more of the people applying have military backgrounds.
“People that are still serving in the guard or active duty and are now out. It’s that kind of service mindset, and it translates well from military service to police work,” Erickson said.
In spite of those challenges, there are plenty of reasons to consider this line of work, he added, and it is different for everyone.
“For me, it’s what I know. This is my passion, it’s my life,” Erickson said. “That’s why I’ve stayed with this career and with Brookings Police Department.”
A helpful trend is that a lot of the people getting into law enforcement are opting to attend two-year technical schools. This appeals to departments – the BPD and the Brookings County Sheriff’s Office included.
When a student has taken all the necessary programming at the school, they can take what’s called a reciprocity test; if they pass, they don’t need to be sent to Pierre for 13 weeks of training.
This saves departments time and money since the recruit is still paid during their time in Pierre.
And there should be plenty of opportunities for people getting into law enforcement in the coming years, Stanwick predicted.
“I think in the next few years, there are going to be lots of retirements statewide, so there’s good opportunity for job openings in the state of South Dakota,” he said.
Erickson encouraged locals to consider such a job.
“We’re in need of good officers, and if they’re local, that’s even better because they know the community already,” he said.
Contact Eric Sandbulte at [email protected]