Back in the day (only about four years ago, actually), it was common for the Garden Grove PD to get about 1,200 or so applicants during its quarterly recruitment drives for new officers.
Now, at a time when fewer young men and women are interested in a career in law enforcement, and looser budgets have agencies fiercely competing against each other for new hires, the GGPD is attracting only between 200 and 400 applicants during each recruitment campaign.
Despite the dramatic drop in the number of potential future officers, the GGPD is on quite a hiring binge, with 44 new officers brought aboard in the last three years (2014 through 2016), and another 23 more expected to be hired in 2017, said Lt. Carl Whitney of the Professional Standards Division (PSD).
The GGPD gives a lot of credit for the hiring streak, which includes a significant number (23) of “laterals” hired from other agencies, to its crack two-person hiring and recruitment team in PSD: outgoing Cpl. Nick Jensen, along with Victoria Foster, one of the region’s most seasoned background investigators.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last four years, and what we’re going to accomplish from here on out,” said Foster, who also is the Membership Chairperson and Training Coordinator of the California Background Investigators Association (CBIA), a statewide association comprised of over 500 public safety background investigators.
“My primary responsibility is to insure we hire qualified police officers and other needed staff for GGPD,” Foster added. “We are the gatekeepers. If we don’t hire the right people, it could affect the future of our department.”
Foster has been a reserve officer since 1978, starting out with the El Segundo PD. Besides working for ESPD, she was also a reserve officer for the Cypress PD and GGPD, and currently is a reserve deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Foster been conducting background investigations since 1994 and to date has conducted more than 1,000 background investigations.
She said the GGPD takes a very hands-on approach through the entire recruitment and hiring process.
“We constantly keep in contact with all of our applicants who go into the background process,” Foster said. “Other agencies tend not to be as hands on as GGPD.”
Jensen has been the corporal in charge of recruiting and hiring at the GGPD for nearly four years. Prior to going back to patrol, Jensen, 34, is training his replacement, Cpl. Chuck Starnes, 42, who formally started Aug. 8 but will be learning the ropes for a month.
“I think the number of laterals we’ve hired speaks volumes,” Jensen said. “It’s hard for a veteran officer to leave his or her comfort zone (their department). When someone does this, that says a lot.”
As he, Foster and Starnes see it, the GGPD — in addition to competitive pay — has valuable intangibles that make it a popular destination for both seasoned officers looking for a change, as well as rookie officers.
“We’re a family-oriented department,” Foster said. “That’s our motto. With all the recruiting and background investigations we do, we make it a point to go above and beyond during the process. We treat everyone like family and mentor them, especially laterals. If they have questions, concerns or worries, we do our best to make the process as stress-free as possible.”
Starnes, a seasoned patrol and motor officer who has won a handful of lifesaving awards, says GGPD’s approach to police work also is attractive to potential hirees.
“We go out and want to work,” Starnes said of the GGPD’s work ethic. “We just don’t sit back and wait for the next call. We’re very proactive. We go out and meet with community members, and if we see something that’s not right, we deal with it. We don’t just park behind a building and wait for calls to come in.”
At a time when job fairs at colleges and other venues are few and far between, word of mouth from recent hirees is a big recruitment tool, Jensen said.
“When (officers) from other agencies come here, they feel they are very welcomed and feel they are part of something special, and that has a ripple effect,” Jensen said.
Added Starnes: “We’re not trying to steal anyone from other agencies. If the door opens and the opportunity is there, people are seizing it.”
The latest GGPD open application period ended Monday, Aug. 21. The next hiring drive is set for October.
The GGPD needs to test 100 applicants for every successful hire, Jensen said.
Despite the recent hiring binge, which includes three reserve officers and a slew of professional staffers, the GPPD remains understaffed, with numerous upcoming retirements only making the job of bringing aboard new officers very challenging, Whitney said.
Whitney said most law enforcement agencies have a ratio of between 1.2 and 1.3 officers per 10,000 residents. Garden Grove has a ratio of .86 officers per 10,000 residents, Whitney said. The GGPD has an authorized sworn level of 166 but is operating with 152 sworn officers due to injuries and vacancies.
So the GGPD hiring and recruitment team — Foster and Starnes — will keep hammering away.
“I love training people,” said Starnes, a longtime field training officer (FTO). “I think this is a better way for me to be able to train people throughout the entire department. I love patrol, but this is something I wanted to do during my career.”
Said Foster: “I’m very proud to say I’m with the Garden Grove PD. We have a great reputation not only in Orange County, but throughout the state.”