Broward police agencies looking for new recruits

 

cteproff@MiamiHerald.com

Need a job?

If you can jump a fence (or two) and push a car 20 feet by yourself, and you’re not averse to risk, several police agencies across Broward County are hiring.

Hollywood, with 33 vacancies, is going all out to attract applicants.

The city has put up a billboard off Interstate 95 near Oakwood Plaza featuring an enlarged photo of a police badge and a short message in big letters: “Serve with Honor, JOIN THE FORCE.”

“We are all competing for the same pool of applicants,” Hollywood Police Chief Frank Fernandez said. “We need to get the message out there.”

While Hollywood has the most job openings — many officers left after the city slashed pay and benefits in 2010 and ’11 — agencies across Broward are hiring new recruits. Some are adding positions as the economy improves.

Fort Lauderdale, one of the largest agencies in the county, has 16 openings. The Broward Sheriff’s Office in the past year has hired more than 70 deputies, many of whom came from Hollywood.

“We are seeing more jobs opening up,” said Linda Wood, dean of Broward College’s Institute for Public Safety, which runs Broward’s police academy.

Many of the men and women looking to serve and protect say they are encouraged.

“I just want to get hired,” said Christian Nickerson, who was taking the swim and agility tests Thursday at the academy.

New recruits have to go through grueling tests just to apply for a job, including pushing a car, running an obstacle course, and a trigger-pull exam to test hand strength. Once they apply, there is another series of tests and qualifications that vary by agency, including a psychological exam and a polygraph test. If they are hired and not yet certified, they have to go through the police academy, which at Broward college costs about $3,600 and includes 770 hours of training — often at the department’s expense.

Joseph Tigeleiro, 22, was among those training last week.

When he heard “Go!” Tigeleiro took off running, easily clearing the six-foot wall in front of him. He kept a steady pace, climbing up the ladder and down a ramp, then over a gate and up a chain-link fence. He made it in one minute and 26 seconds, under the two-minute time limit.

Tigeleiro, who lives in West Palm Beach, is certified and was taking the agility test, which expires after six months. He said he has applied to Sunrise, Lauderhill and Broward Sheriff’s Office.

“Location is very important,” said Tigeleiro, saying that was his main focus when he chose which agencies to apply for.

For Chris Rodriguez, 24, a department’s financial stability, pay and benefits weigh heavily on his decision.

“I am looking for a place that has a good retirement plan,” he said. He’s applied to BSO and Miami Beach.

He said word trickles down to the new recruits about where and where not to apply.

“Everyone talks,” he said. He said he had heard that Hollywood had a “mass exodus.”

“You have to consider those things when you are applying,” he said.

In Hollywood’s case, it’s been a rough few years as the city dealt with budget deficits. Pay for police officers was slashed 12.5 percent and benefits were cut. The starting salary, at $42,000, was the lowest in Broward. Morale suffered, and the relationship between the police union and the city soured. Lawsuits were filed, and union negotiations stalled.

It wasn’t until July that the department and the city agreed on a contract that will cost the city $5.6 million over two years. The deal raises the starting salary for officers to just over $50,000, bringing it in line with other agencies.

Meanwhile, several officers have left to join other agencies, and the city has had a high number of retirements. Fernandez said the city has hired 33 officers this year so far, more than any other year. He plans to hire 10 more in the next few weeks.

Fernandez said Hollywood is careful in selecting the right officers — only about 1 of every 40 applicants make the cut. It is a long and tedious process.

“We are serious about getting people who are committed to serving this community with integrity,” he said.

Even with the new hires, it takes about a year to get officers on the street.

Fernandez said a more intensive recruitment effort will cost the city about $40,000, including bus benches, banners and advertisements on radio and television.

Jeff Marano, president of the Broward Police Benevolent Association, said the billboard is a waste of money, especially when people perceive that violent crime is up.

“If someone wants to be a police officer, they are going to do the research,” he said. “No one is going to look at a billboard and say, ‘Oh, maybe I should become a police officer.’ ”

While being a law enforcement officer can be dangerous, Wood said officers are trained to handle life-and-death situations, which can arise when serving warrants, chasing criminals or even at basic traffic stops. The last officer in Broward to die in the line of duty was Christopher A. Schaub, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2012.

BSO Training Officer Kevin Shultz said, “Being an officer is unlike any other job because humans are unpredictable.”

“We teach officers how to survive,” he said. “But there is no way to prepare them for everything that could happen.”

Fort Lauderdale, which has 16 vacancies, said it may soon use a billboard as well to get the message out. But spokeswoman Diana Greenlaw said the department does get plenty of applications.

So does Sunrise, said police spokeswoman Michelle Eddy: “We are very fortunate that people want to work for the city.”

Read more Broward stories from the Miami Herald

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