Sgt. John Ema, who runs the personnel and training division at the Fullerton PD, motions to the white board hanging in his office.
In various colors of erasable ink that indicate such positions as officer trainee, lateral police officer, and dispatcher, the board paints a vivid story not only facing the Fullerton PD, but law enforcement agencies throughout O.C. and elsewhere:
The critical need to recruit and hire more officers and professional staff employees.
Allotted 150 full-time officers in its current budget, the FPD is down 18 officers. With five retiring this month and up to four gone by the beginning of 2019, plus other vacancies, the agency could be short as many as 32 officers come New Year.
Stressing that the FPD’s quality of service has not been, and will not be, compromised due to the shortage of sworn and other personnel – for example, officers assigned to other FPD units have been working overtime to keep patrol, the agency’s top priority, humming – Ema acknowledges the importance for the FPD to catch up to the 150 allotted officer positions, a process he says may take up to two to three years.
With retirements coming at a more frequent pace due to changes in public pension rules that make it more attractive, for many, to retire at age 50, and a dearth of young adults interested in careers in law enforcement, personnel and training sergeants like Ema are taking a very active and entrepreneurial approach to attracting fresh talent.
Because it typically takes more than a year from the filing of a job application to getting a new hire on the streets, it’s critical to get the ball rolling immediately, Ema says.
“We’re no longer hiring from a pool, but a puddle,” he says.
Following a couple of years during which recruitment efforts at the FPD lie comparatively dormant, Ema – a 13-year FPD veteran and 20-year law enforcement veteran who has been in his current post since June – has kick-started recruitment efforts by forming a team of nearly 30 officers charged by top brass with being as creative as possible in refilling the pipeline with future officers and other employees.
Starting this July through the end of the year, the FPD will attend no fewer than 16 recruitment events, from San Diego to Los Angeles counties.
Members of the FPD recruitment team have been told to tap into their personal networks of college, military and other contacts to spread the word about the attractive careers available at the agency, which has more than 12 specialty assignments.
The FPD also is known for its family atmosphere and off-duty activities for officers, members of the professional staff and their families, including trips to the Colorado River, to Angels games, golf tournaments and barbecue smoking competitions held in the department’s parking lot.
At a recent law enforcement job fair at Cal State Fullerton, visitors to the FPD booth were impressed by what they saw and heard.
“I noticed the way the Fullerton officers carry themselves with a high level of professionalism,” said one transfer student from Fullerton College who has 2.5 years left before he graduates. He plans to major in business with a minor in sociology.
“I just wanted to get more acquainted with law enforcement, all the little nuances you don’t really hear about, like retirement plans, and just planning for my future,” the student added. “I’m just super interested in serving in law enforcement.”
Word is getting out to potential laterals to the FPD that the agency is bending backward to hire more personnel. The agency is working with the city to come up with incentives for lateral police officers.
Officer Danielle Patrick, who was just assigned as Ema’s hiring officer, left the Orange County Sheriff’s Department 1 ½ years ago to join the FPD. She was at the OCSD for three years, during which she worked jails.
“I really wanted to put all my effort into serving one city and make more of an impact,” says Patrick, whose sister attends CSUF and whose mother works for the City of Fullerton.
Her father, Darren Patrick, is a Sheriff’s Special Officer (SSO) at the OCSD, and her aunt is a retired OCSD deputy. Patrick attended the University of Nevada on a softball scholarship and got into law enforcement after serving as a licensed social worker.
“I love how proactive the Fullerton PD is,” says Patrick, who also is trained as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) at the agency. “They really truly believe 100 percent in being a proactive agency for the community.”
Ema, who transferred to his position from family crimes, now is doing things like hiring web designers, ordering pins and other “swag” items, and buying tool chests to stuff with FPD promotional materials that can be rolled out to recruitment events.
The Fullerton City fleet donated a car to the FPD that will be dedicated to recruitment events and will have a promotional wrap to easily catch eyes.
Key to the efforts of Ema and his team is the creation of a new recruitment website, joinfullertonPD.com, which launched Oct. 4, 2018. The website will make it much easier for those who are interested to apply.
The FPD also is filming a new video to play on a large flat screen at its recruitment events, and is remodeling the offices where potential hires are interviewed.
Working closely with Ema is Sgt. Bryan Bybee, who two years ago took it upon himself to push for ramped-up recruiting efforts after realizing how many retirements were coming up. That effort didn’t go far, but FPD’s new leaders, including Interim Chief Bob Dunn, told Ema and Bybee to be creative and go for it when it comes to recruiting.
“It’s up to us to go out and seek (applicants),” says Bybee, a 10-year FPD veteran. “This administration has let us follow our vision of what we want to do. For an agency of our size, we’re doing a lot.”
At the CSUF recruitment booth, FPD officers chatted up visitors and handed out brochures that included salary information, benefits, specialty assignments as well as the culture.
A written test for police officer trainees is scheduled for Oct. 29, with a physical ability test set for Nov. 16, followed by oral interviews the week of Nov. 26.
Officer Drew Fabrigas, who’s been at the FPD for a year and has been a police officer for three years, was pleased with the turnout of potential applicants.
“It seems like we’ve had some qualified candidates that we can work with and give them tips on the hiring process,” Fabrigas said.
“We’re able to really sell our department and how we’re a family-focused agency,” he added. “A lot of the (public) only sees what they see on TV. We get to tell them our on-the-job experiences, what we do on patrol, the specialty units we have, and describe the job to make it more real to them.”
Karina Vilchis, who graduated from CSUF with a major in criminal justice in May 2018, said she came to the recent law enforcement job fair to get a feel for the different agencies.
Vilchis has served as an intern at the Newport Beach PD and has done a couple of ridealongs with the Santa Ana PD.
“I like that they (the Fullerton PD) were very welcoming from the beginning, and how they talked about the agency being like family,” Vilchis said.
Det. Tori Chandler, a CSUF graduate and member of the recruitment team, suggested to Ema that the FPD be at the job fair. Efrain Pineda, another visitor to the FPD table, earned a master’s in public administration from CSUF.
“I learned that the FPD has great benefits,” Pineda said. “Just talking to them really encouraged me to apply.”
The FPD has six recruits in its current academy class, and is positive more will come. Also on Ema’s unit is training officer Cpl. Joe Torres and Patricia Arevalo, the non-sworn training coordinator.
“The job has purpose,” Bybee said.
“It’s an honorable profession,” Ema added.
Steven Georges contributed to this story.