One of the biggest challenges faced by law enforcement agencies today is not what you might expect. There are only a handful of departments in Mobile and Baldwin counties that are fully staffed with officers and deputies and recruiting qualified applicants is increasingly difficult.
The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office employs more deputies than any other agency in the county and is growing all the time. A full staff of deputy sheriffs would be 119, but the department is six short of that number. Since Sheriff Hoss Mack took office nearly 12 years ago, he’s added an additional 32, but he said there’s always a need to add more.
“Versus what we did ten years ago when we almost didn’t have to recruit at all, people more or less came to us seeking the employment, now we’re having to go out and recruit individuals,” Mack said.
That’s more difficult now. Mack said fewer people are looking to enter law enforcement and those that do are screened more closely. That, in combination with a more stressful work environment, a recent change to retirement eligibility and a society that’s increasingly hostile towards law enforcement are all contributing to the problem.
“If we have something…a negative incident that happens at an agency two thousand miles away from here, it tends to affect us in the poll of public opinion,” explained Mack.
Increasing hostility towards law enforcement has created another big challenge. Recent in the line of duty deaths close to home and across the country give some recruits and working deputies reason to reconsider. All of these factors have created a competitive environment among agencies. Pay and benefits is a big factor. Smaller departments like Summerdale can find it difficult to compete.
“There’s all the issues involved, from the quality of the police force itself along with the pay…trying to increase the pay as much as we can in order to keep the officers that we have,” Brock said.
Foley is one of the highest paying police departments in Baldwin County and one of the few that is at full staff. Chief David Wilson said he knows he’s in the minority.
“You know, you’ll have an officer here and there move around and we’ll have openings again, but if we have an opening, we’ll usually have about a hundred people put in to work for the city of Foley,” Wilson said. “The city of Foley is a great place to work.”
Out of those 100 applicants, Chief Wilson said drug testing, polygraphs and background checks narrows the field dramatically. From salaries to benefits to recruiting on social media, every agency is looking to get the best recruit for the job. For most agencies in our area, the process never ends.