The Orange County Sheriff’s Department recently began streamlining its process of hiring peace officers with on-the-job experience.
The department is quite pleased with the results.
Since Nov. 1, OCSD has processed more than 50 applications from prospective laterals – officers and deputies with experience from other law enforcement agencies – including several who’ve been hired and sworn in.
In just three months, four laterals have been hired, 27 are in backgrounds and 17 are in the recruitment process. There were six laterals in the background process before the recruitment kicked off Nov. 1.
The most recent group of laterals hired by the OCSD took their oaths at a special ceremony Feb. 2 at the Brad Gates Building in Santa Ana, adjacent to OCSD headquarters.
With their families and fellow deputies in attendance, loved ones pinned the sheriff’s badge on the six new OCSD deputies.
Anticipating the prospect of having to replace an estimated 900 sworn positions over the next eight years, adjusting the application process for lateral applicants became necessary, said Undersheriff Don Barnes, who administered the oath to the new deputies.
“For those six of you that are here today, you are here at the most opportune time,” Barnes told the new deputies. “We provide police service to almost a third of the county. If there is something on your bucket list that you want to do in your career, I guarantee we have something for you.”
The undersheriff pointed out possible opportunities within various OCSD divisions, such as multiple SWAT and narcotics teams, security at John Wayne Airport and helicopter search and rescue.
Those opportunities were the main draw for newly sworn Deputy Melinda Reyna, who made the lateral move from the Pomona Police Department, where she’d worked for just under a year.
“My main interest is vice and working sex crimes and possibly the human trafficking task force,” Reyna said. “It’s a great department I came from but I wanted a little more opportunity.”
Newly sworn OCSD Deputy Bongki Min spent three years with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department but wanted to return to his Orange County roots.
Upon learning about the new application process for laterals, along with some coaxing from an OCSD sergeant who he had worked under in the past, Min said it was time to make the move.
“They were very welcoming,” Min said. “I said, ‘You know what, this is the place.’”
Taking their oaths along with Min and Reyna were Deputies Matthew Jonte, Arvar Elkins, Arthur Paine and Steve Nhek.
Faced with a rash of positions to fill and intense competition from other law enforcement agencies that need more sworn personnel, OCSD made a few adjustments to the hiring process. Lateral prospects no longer have to take a written or physical agility test after submitting their application to OCSD.
Rather, in a change adopted in November, lateral applicants now will come in for an oral interview and, if they pass that, the typically time-consuming process of checking their backgrounds will begin.
The policy change is expected to shorten by up to two months the time it takes to hire a lateral, said Sgt. Rebecca Contreras, of the Professional Standards Division – Background.
“We’re not changing our hiring requirements,” Contreras said, “but instead streamlining the process to make it more efficient.”
Also, in a change that happened a couple of months ago, OCSD now can hire laterals at a more competitive salary. Before the county approved the change, laterals – regardless of how many years of experience they had – only could join OCSD at a lower pay rate.
But that’s the way the old system worked.
Once a month, lateral applicants would come to OCSD to take a written test and undergo a physical agility test. If they passed those tests, they would be invited back – typically a week or two later – for a 20-minute oral interview by three panelists who would ask them five scenario-based questions.
Then, if they passed the oral interview, the process of having their background investigated would begin.
The new lateral hiring process, Contreras said, “gets applicants in the door faster and also gets them working, boots on the ground, faster.”