City, BPD Must Work Together to Recruit New Talent



These are tough times to be a police officer.

High profile cases like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, have put agencies under more scrutiny. At the same time, the economy is booming, which means job seekers have many more options. This is certainly true in the Bay Area, where the cost of housing and living is high. As a result, police agencies around the country are struggling to find enough qualified candidates.

The Berkeley Police Department is one of them. Although the agency is authorized for 181 officers, it currently has 160, including 7 in training. The Department is working hard to find and hire over 20 new officers, and it takes over a year or more to background, hire, and train an officer. Resources have been strained and some are thinking about leaving the Department. 

Obviously, this is of great concern to me, the rest of the City Council and our residents. There will certainly be impacts on service, but we are working to ensure patrols are not reduced.  Despite high profile cases, including among Bay Area agencies, the Berkeley Police Department has had a great track record over the years. It has some of the best-trained and most educated officers, and has avoided the type of scandals that plague many agencies. The Department has been a great partner with the city and has been instrumental in keeping crime rates low. In fact, crime is much lower today than it was just a decade ago.

Now, in light of the shortage of personnel, we must work together to think of proactive and creative ways to attract a new crop of officers who seek opportunities for professional development and growth. This could mean changing how recruitment is done or looking at salaries and benefits to be competitive.

Critics like to point out that police staffing levels are lower today than they were two decades ago. But what they neglect to mention is that cuts have occurred across the board for all city departments in the aftermath of the Great Recession. And even though our economy has improved, these staffing levels have never recovered. In this, our Police Department is not alone.

I support the men and women of our Police Department and am committed to helping Chief Greenwood recruit qualified candidates, a sentiment I know is shared by my colleagues on the Council. That’s why over the past year the City Council has provided our police new tools including:

- a new armored vehicle to use during critical incidents,

-allowing police to carry pepper spray during protests as one more tool to prevent the escalation of violence, and

-banning items like sticks and spears during rallies that can be used to harm both protesters and the police.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the city already spends 54 percent of its overall revenue on public safety, significantly more than any other department. I believe that our city can attract new recruits by creating a dynamic agency that offers excellent training, career advancement and professional satisfaction. We have always been resourceful and innovative, and must work together to find a solution.

Jesse Arreguin