Deteriorating public finances in many public cities are creating headaches for some of the country’s largest police departments. The City of Dallas, as we’ve pointed out time and time again, is in a particularly difficult position.
The Dallas Police & Fire Pension (DPFP), which covers nearly 10,000 police and firefighters, is on the verge of collapse as its board and the city struggle to pitch benefit cuts to save the plan from complete failure.
The implosion of the fund left active-duty Dallas police and firemen wondering whether that pension check they had been counting on to fund their retirement was about disappear for good. All of which sparked a mass exodus of Dallas police and firefighters eager to lock in their payout rates before they were slashed by the DPFP board. A record 72 officers decided to quit the force in July, despite a plan wending its way through the Texas state legislature that would help “save” the pension fund.
This has left the Dallas PD in an uncomfortable situation: Not only are there a record 250 open jobs to fill, but the enticements to lure quality recruits have been diminished, and with all the attention surrounding police killings, departments are hoping to be more discerning when hiring new recruits.
All of this has forced Dallas Police CHief Renee Hall to consider more creative recruiting strategies.
The recruitment shortage that’s occurred as a result in some areas is forcing police departments to develop creative strategies for luring millennial recruits to the force. In January, Hall plans to roll out a program that will give a total of four to six days off for officers that recruit someone who is hired and graduates from the academy.
According to Fox 4, both the Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire-Rescue are struggling to find people who want to protect and serve. Both chiefs told city council members that recruiting millennials has proven challenging.
"We have nights, weekends and holidays — not attractive to millennials who want all days off and to be the chief in six months,” Chief Hall said. “We recognize that is a challenge."
"The other challenge — they're job hopping every five years,” added Dallas Fire Chief David Coatney.
Meanwhile, the opioid crisis has rendered hundreds of thousands of young men and women ineligible for law-enforcement service.
Another factor making life difficult for Chief Hall is the fact that, because of the city’s precarious fiscal situation, starting pay is lower than neighboring cities.
All of this is happening as crime rates, which had been falling for decades, appear to be rising once again. Hall’s department saw a 4% uptick in violent crime year-to-year.
"Crime is still rising,” said DPA President Mike Mata. “We have to do what we can to bring those numbers down."
Additionally, Hall plans to start recruiting Dallas ISD students and hiring them as public service officers until they can be peace officers at age 19-and-a-half. She says it is within her power as chief to hire applicants who would currently not qualify because they admit to infractions like minor drug use.
"We recognize that when you're 17 and you do something silly or stupid, you're a different person when you're 24,” she said.
Chief Coatney, whose department has run out of ambulances on occasion this year, said he’s working to shorten his department's long application process.
"We've changed our entire hiring process,” he said. “Now, we have an open hiring period. People can apply at any time."