Job seekers are swamping federal, state and local police agencies during the economic downturn, a reversal from recent years when departments struggled to find qualified recruits.
Police chiefs expect the new prospects, many of them highly experienced and victims of corporate cutbacks, will be better suited to fill a range of public safety jobs, from dispatchers to beat cops.
“We’re talking about people who have been in the workforce for a long time,” Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt says. “They know what being part of a team means and are more mature about the world of work.”
The FBI, which said in December it would hire about 3,000 agents and staffers, is sorting through 227,000 applications, the largest such response in its history. Among the usual accountants, military veterans and recent college graduates are computer technicians and financial executives. A Washington chef and two National Football League players also expressed interest in jobs.
“This year, there is great appeal in government work,” says Gwendolyn Hubbard, who is overseeing the bureau’s hiring for jobs paying $35,000 to $153,000, with health care and retirement plans. “People are attracted by the benefits and job security.”
Despite the many applicants, the FBI is running ads for agent jobs in part because about 50% fail background checks, she says. Advertising for the recent hiring program cost less than $1 million, FBI spokesman Mike Kortan says.
Among other law enforcement agencies seeing lots of applicants:
• In Las Vegas, car salesmen, mortgage brokers and construction workers — representing some of the nation’s most troubled industries — want to help keep the peace in America’s playground.
Normally, about 280 prospects take the entrance test each month. That rose to 400 in the past few months, says police Lt. Blake Quackenbush. A 69-year-old man who “out-ran a lot of younger people” and two chiropractors recently took the exam.
• Houston’s Police Chief Hurtt says his agency has been getting about 200 more applications a month since late last year. He sees evidence of better-qualified officers. Cadets that graduated from the local police academy last week posted the highest combined score on academic tests of any class in city history. One of the cadets also broke the record for most consecutive push-ups: 1,100.
• The Phoenix Police Department set an annual record for the most applicants last year — 4,000 — before the hiring program was shut down in October because of budget cuts. “The economy had to play a part in this,” Sgt. Forrest Vincent says, though he also credits the agency’s aggressive recruiting.
Police agencies are among the few employers still hiring. When the Justice Department invited local agencies to apply for a share of $1 billion in stimulus funding to hire more officers, its website got 19,000 inquiries within a week.
“It’s been unbelievable,” says Justice Department spokesman Corey Ray.