A police department that's 'always hiring'
With a goal of hiring approximately 180 officers every year, San Antonio Police Department is, in fact, continuously hiring
Across the country, police agencies big and small seem to be squarely in an era of layoffs and downsizing-by-attrition. Camden, New Jersey is kind of the ‘poster child’ for this trend — the city famously slashed its police force in half in January 2011 — but there are many other cities in the country whose municipal coffers have forced deep cuts in the ranks. It’s a well-known fact that I’m good friends with a few cops from San Jose (Calif.) Police Department, so I’m personally — and acutely — aware of the 106 positions recently lost in that fine group of troops.
Meanwhile, officers in some agencies have ‘seen the handwriting on the walls’ and lateral’d out before they could be laid off. Officers in other agencies have agreed to defer raises or take pay cuts in order to prevent layoffs. Some agencies have even shuttered their doors completely, letting everybody go.
So when I heard from a friend of mine here at PoliceOne that “the San Antonio Police Department is always hiring,” I was, to say the least, rather incredulous. Consequently I spoke via telephone with Officer Yvonne Padilla — who has been with the department since 2003, serving on patrol, in the VICE unit, and eventually on the Tactical Response Unit — who now is one of the recruiters for the agency.
Applicants from Near and Far
“If they’re local,” Padilla said, “when they come in to submit their application, an interview is conducted to review the application and ensure that everything is completed. If it’s going to be rejected, it’s going to be rejected right there. For someone who’s out of town, once we received the application, there’re going to be contacted by a background investigator.”
Following the completion of the preliminary background investigation, a detective will call the applicants continuing on in the process to come in for the physical and written tests.
“Everyone, whether out of town or local, will come in and do the PT and the written on the same day. The written test is conducted, they find out their results immediately. If they pass that, they go outside to conduct their PT test, immediately finding out those scores. If they’re local, they’re going to return home and we’ll call them to schedule a future appointment, but if they’re from out of town, we keep them an extra day to have them do their oral assessment board — that way, they don’t have to make several trips down here. The first three steps we conduct while they’re here.”
All candidates who make it through those initial steps will then be given polygraph examination, a psychological examination, a medical and physical examination, and finally, the Chief of Police review and appointment to the police academy.
For out-of-town applicants, SAPD tries hard to ensure that this entire battery of events happens in two days. This significantly reduces the potential cost for an applicant coming from, say, California or New Jersey. Naturally, due to scheduling issues there are some cases in which that second trip becomes a three-day deal, but I can assure you: you will not complain about having an “extra” day in San Antonio. For more on that, read on...
A Vibrant, Growing City
There are two other facts, however, which I didn’t know until speaking with Officer Padilla. At a time when some cities are mired in a zero-growth (or worse, negative growth) morass, San Antonio is growing. The two abovementioned facts are probably primary contributors to that third thing.
“We get a lot of tourists down here, and a lot of people move in ...People come down and they visit our city and they like the fact that it’s a friendly environment and people want to come back,” Padilla said.
She added that this not only is contributing to the city's overall growth, but that a lot of the people who are interested in applying from outside that 200-mile radius “say things like ‘We were down there visiting,’ or ‘We used to live there and we loved it and we want to come back’,” she said.
The other fact I hadn’t seem to put public safety as a very high priority — for a city of 1.3 million souls, the PD has 2,400 sworn officers. By way of comparison, San Jose (Calif.) has a population of about 1.2 million (countable!) souls, with a sworn police force of about 1,100 officers. For many years, San Jose had been called “the safest big city in America” but given those numbers, San Antonio may now deserve that moniker.
Rigorous, But Equitable Standards
Why the disparity? According to Padilla, “The biggest thing that we find is that you’ve got to by mentally as well as physically prepared. It’s not all about the physical part — they’ve got to be mentally prepared for the assessment board and the polygraph. You may have put everything in your application, but it’s just intimidating to be in a room hooked up to a polygraph machine being asked all these questions. We tell everyone, ‘We don’t want perfect policemen, we want honest policemen’ — we’re not hiding anything in the structure of what we’re doing. We just want everyone to be honest about what they put on their application.”
It should be noted that the City of San Antonio has a document for civil service eligibility rules — entitled Personnel Rules of The City of San Antonio Fire Fighters’ and Police Officers’ Civil Service Commission — which is 13 pages long and fairly detailed in its parameters.
Padilla strongly recommends that you visit that document online, as well as the SAPD Careers website, in order to have a completely clear understanding of what the process is — what the various requirements are — and know that those rules apply to everyone.
Another rule that applies to everyone is training — the city is adamant that every officer on the force has had exactly the same training. Consequently, there are no laterals into SAPD. This policy is probably off-putting to a lot of potential applicants, but the idea behind the policy is a sound one. Everyone has had the same training. Period.
Ending with the Beginning
With a goal of hiring approximately 180 officers every year, I guess SAPD really is, in fact, continuously hiring.
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