The Tustin Police Department has recently been looking to add to its ranks by reaching out to officers at other departments.
The department is unveiling a recruitment “I’m a lateral” campaign to encourage officers to consider joining the department in the city of about 80,000 in Orange County.
Although police departments have always been willing to hire strong lateral transfers, there was previously a kind of unspoken agreement against seeking candidates from other agencies.
That has changed. As the pool of worthy candidates who are interested in careers in law enforcement has receded in recent years, departments have begun to actively look for experienced officers who may be seeking a change, in addition to new recruits.
New recruits, even after they’ve successfully passed agility and mental tests as well as background checks, are at the start of a long road. It takes months for them to complete police academy training and go through extensive field training and a probationary period. Only then are they ready to be full-time patrol officers.
There are many benefits to hiring lateral officers. They are fully trained, have employment records that attest to their work, and have been vetted elsewhere. Some laterals introduce their new agencies to effective practices and strategies learned at a previous department.
The question is, why do laterals choose to join a new department? It all comes down to important factors such as pay, opportunity and culture — and the Tustin Police Department has all three. About one-third of the roughly 100-person Tustin Police Department consists of laterals — including Tustin’s Chief of Police Stu Greenberg.
Here is what some of them say drew them to Tustin.
Depending on experience, lateral officers earn between about $85,000 and $108,000, according to the City of Tustin website. Salary.com shows the average police officer salary in Orange County in 2022 is $67,900, with salaries ranging from $63,400 to $73,900.
Smaller police departments can often offer quicker advancement opportunities than large agencies. For example, Detective Charlie Carter, 38, with the Major Crimes team advanced in six years to his current position.
“I wanted to be in a place where I can grow my career,” he said.
Officer Tim Thai, a former L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy who joined the department in October 2021, is already seeing opportunities opening up. He said his interests include being a range officer, on the special response team, and maybe SWAT.
The most common theme Tustin officers cited is the family feel and the culture of the department.
“Tustin is a place where we’re family oriented,” said Lt. Luis Garcia, a lateral from South Gate. “There are a lot of things we get to do, compared to other departments.”
The feeling of connectedness is not just within the department, but extends to the community as well.
Motorcycle Officer Mike McJunkin, 28, noticed that immediately.
“I went on a ride-along with an officer,” said McJunkin, who began his career at the Men’s Central Jail in L.A. and came to the Tustin PD in 2017. He recently joined SWAT and is preparing to become a Field Training Officer. “I liked that he had a relationship with the people he was talking with on the street, and the cohesiveness of it all.”
Tustin Lt. Matt Nunley said the community has been a key through his tenure.
“I wanted to work at a place with a family atmosphere and supportive of the community,” said Nunley, who came from the Signal Hill Police Department. “I’ve spent 21 years here with the support not only of the city, but the people who live in the city.”
Learn more: https://www.tustinca.org/174/Join-Our-Team