Applicants do push-ups as Sheriff’s Investigator Nelson Guzman, left, gives out instructions during the agility test to potentially become new Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies at Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center in Riverside in August. Potential deputies undergo fitness test to determined their physical abilities. Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG

By Alicia Robinson | arobinson@scng.com | The Orange County Register
Published: March 26, 2018 at 6:30 am | Updated: March 26, 2018 at 10:28 am

Early one morning before the Inland heat burned the chill off the air outdoors, dozens of men and a handful of women in workout clothes sweated their way through pushups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run.

A white-haired man in a tan Riverside County Sheriff’s Department polo shirt gave everyone a pep talk before the run, which they had to finish in 14 minutes to qualify as potential deputies.

“There’s only two reasons we run,” Sheriff’s Investigator Nelson Guzman told them. “Either you’re in pursuit or you’re running to the aid of your partner.”

Out of 163 people who took the sheriff’s monthly agility test in August, 119 passed — and just a few will eventually join a law enforcement agency.

And with many Southern California agencies hoping to fill hundreds of vacancies, experts say hiring cops right now is both challenging and extremely competitive.

Some law enforcement agencies are so eager to attract experienced officers, they’re offering incentives. In Riverside, it’s two weeks’ extra vacation for transfers. In Hemet, they’re advertising a $15,000 signing bonus.

And with the sheer volume of hiring they want to do agencies are also looking for new recruits.

Police and sheriff’s departments across the state and beyond have seen their ranks shrink because of retirements and the recession, but a number of them are now trying to reverse the trend.

“This is a nationwide problem. We’re not alone in this,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Jaeger, who heads the department’s recruitment unit.

“I don’t believe there is an agency anywhere in the country that is having no trouble filling their ranks.”

That’s in addition to the individual needs of departments, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s plans to seek funding for more than 160 new deputies and support personnel to improve medical and mental healthcare for jail inmates.

Beefing up law enforcement staffing likely won’t be fast or easy.

The many tests and high standards would-be officers must meet, the public’s new scrutiny of police conduct, pension reform and a competitive hiring environment add obstacles to recruitment.

“Recruits are in high demand,” said Gardena Police Chief Edward Medrano, who leads the California Police Chiefs Association. “That’s universally occurring across California.”

And it’s not just in the state.

In its June issue, the national Police Chief magazine called the recruitment situation a “crisis.” Not everyone thinks such strong language is warranted, but there seems to be a consensus that law enforcement faces big recruitment challenges.

“Essentially the whole country is going through this problem,” said Nelson Lim, a senior sociologist at Santa Monica-based RAND Corporation who studies police recruiting.

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