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Ark. agencies looking to fill vacancies

The Associated Press
Related: Across U.S., police struggle with staffing

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Police agencies across Arkansas are looking to fill vacancies in a job market in which experienced law officers are hard to find and hard to keep.
Statistics kept by the Arkansas Crime Information Center reveal that 17 of 22 Arkansas cities with more than 20,000 people have fewer officers than the national average of one for every 402 residents, according to a report in Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Marty Montgomery, coordinator of the Law Enforcement Management Division at the Criminal Justice Institute, said officers are working to get extra training, which makes for tougher competition among officers for top jobs within individual departments.

"It's harder today than it ever has been for top police candidates," said Montgomery, a former Faulkner County sheriff. "Our enrollment is up with more and more officers wanting to upgrade their skills."

For regular patrol jobs, agencies are competing against each other for applicants.

"If you have law enforcement, or military, experience, you can work just about anywhere you want in this state," Little Rock police spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings said. The Little Rock department is trying to recruit an October class for its academy. "There are a lot of agencies hiring and we're all going after the same people."

The department has a class in training now, but once those officers are on the street, Little Rock will still be short 13 officers.

Little Rock, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Texarkana and West Memphis all have more police officers than the national average.

Many others, including those in booming northwest Arkansas, have fewer officers. Five cities in the northwest have officer-to-resident ratios of less than 1-to-600. Bentonville has the greatest gap in northwestern Arkansas, with one officer for every 654 residents.

Officials say that hiring has not been able to keep up with population growth in the region.

"Anytime you're in a growth area like this, if you don't have some type of grants to help you, you're always going to be behind," Bentonville Police Chief James Allen said. "Luckily, the crime rate has stayed rather low."

Rogers Police Chief Steve Helms said his department has lost officers to Wal-Mart, which offers better-paying jobs in corporate security.

"We lose a lot more to private sector than to other agencies," Helms said.

The Arkansas State Police received authorization from the Legislature to add 50 new positions. The new troopers will be paid $36,000 per year, after training.

"I think were competitive now with the larger city police departments in the state," Sparks said.

In Searcy, where there is one officer for every 692 residents, "we're kind of used as a training ground," police spokesman Amber Bramlett said. "We've lost officers to state police, to the capitol police. Salary-wise, we cannot compete with these larger departments."

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