After several months of effort, police officials say they’ve had some success in hiring new police officers. Administrators at the Virgin Islands Police Department point to the number of seats filled at the police academy as proof but quickly add that more recruits are wanted.
A few months have passed since recruitment display ads appeared in public, seeking those interested in becoming police officers. A few months since the campaign began in late 2022, Police Commissioner Ray Martinez said he hoped to have seen a greater response. But the official in charge of the program, day to day, took a broader view.
Police Sgt. Jamale Griffin said those efforts have produced more than 10 trainees for the police academy, plus about half a dozen more in training who will join the ranks as auxiliary cops. The department’s hiring drive is also producing applicants to fill vacancies for administrators in several divisions, Griffin said.
“For approximately the past six months to a year we have been aggressively trying to recruit police officers. We have been working tirelessly, and other police personnel are also being recruited. It’s been very positive,” the sergeant said.
To put those efforts into perspective, VIPD is working to increase its workforce at a time when police hiring is trending down nationwide. According to a Jan. 21 article published by the nonprofit the Marshall Project citing figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, officer vacancies at local police departments increased by 18 percent between 2020 and 2022.
The Rand Corporation — a recognized nationwide think tank — also took a look at the police recruiting problem in late December and produced similar findings.
“It’s hard. Everybody’s struggling,” said VIPD Human Resources Director Dwayne Richards. “Nowadays, people are starting to shy away from becoming police officers.” In an attempt to counteract the trend, Richards named some strategies the department is using.
Aside from highlighting the starting salary for certified academy graduates who enter the police force, officials are promoting the career possibilities inside the department. Richards said candidates who say they’re willing to undergo training are also less enthusiastic about serving out their work lives as patrol officers. So recruiters are pointing to opportunities to serve as investigators, on the marine patrol, on bike patrol, in Special Operations, community-oriented policing, or the traffic bureau, he said.
Those interests also mirror national trends cited in the Rand study, which cited a survey among college students where 55 percent said they showed interest in work as patrol officers if it could lead to other career options.
VIPD recruiters acknowledge the trend by approaching Virgin Islanders currently in the military. When recruiters called on members of the Virgin Islands National Guard, they found some who were interested but only as auxiliary officers. For guardsmen and women serving full time, the auxiliary gives them extra income plus a chance to give police work a try, Richards said.
People with other work backgrounds have also shown interest in working as part-time cops. Some police officials suggest the auxiliary program, which began several months ago, has become a popular choice.
And in pointing to the two academy classes now underway, the head of the Virgin Islands Police Department Training Academy seems to agree. “We have 14 auxiliary officers, territory-wide and 13 VIPD recruits, territory-wide,” said Captain Maria Colon.
To fill one of those academy seats, those interested in joining the department start by taking an entry exam. They sit for interviews and for a psychological agility test. There are also physical fitness and medical exams. For military service personnel with discharge papers and applicants who produce a college degree, the application process is streamlined, Griffin said.
If all of those standards are met, the applicant becomes a recruit and enters the academy. The one question the sergeant answered vaguely was how many successful applicants it takes to fill VIPD’s recruitment goals.
“It’s limitless. We are constantly on the hunt,” he said. “It’s our community. When we say we’re recruiting police for our community we have to remember, we are the community,” Griffin said.
Further information can be found at the Virgin Islands Police Department website.