Waco: Smaller MCC academy class may reflect U.S. policing crisis
There's a workforce crisis in law enforcement nationwide, according to a recent study, and local law enforcement is feeling it.
Police Executive Research Forum has released a report calling the situation a "triple threat," meaning fewer applicants, more resignations, and a looming retirement bubble are hitting the policing industry hard, and it comes at a time when many agencies are already short-staffed.
"The numbers are not as high as they used to be," said Dennis Stapleton, coordinator of the Law Enforcement Academy at McLennan Community College.
"Things have changed."
The industry trend has hit local law enforcement agencies, officials say, which may have been evidenced at Wednesday night's graduation ceremony for the McLennan Community College Law Enforcement Academy.
The academy supplies many local police agencies with trained, certified officers.
However, at 13, this class, B-2019, was smaller than most.
On a bright note: 11 of the 13 cadets had already been hired by six different local law enforcement agencies.
"The standard to become a police officer is high and it should be," said Stapleton.
As a result, local agencies are seeing fewer people apply and test to become police officers, officials say.
"Back in the 80s when we put in for jobs, it was 800 people for ten jobs for Waco PD back in 1981, so we just don't have the numbers coming in," said Stapleton. "The people aren't as excited about the career field, the shift-work's got a lot to do with it, the quazi-military-style that run police departments, the fitness test knocks a lot of people out."
Stapleton also says the inherent, but increased danger of being a police officer and the high-qualifications are also factors.
"Society has changed in regard to what is accepted and what is not, but the standards for law enforcement still remain high," said Stapleton.
"What a lot of people don't understand is they may have made some mistakes when they were young adults, and because of those, it will eliminate them from maybe their dream of becoming a police officer.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of full-time, sworn police officers in the U.S. per capita is down ten percent since 1997.
With an average GPA of 93.44, B-2019 was the academy's 34th class since it was established in 2004 and the 26th class in a row with a 100% pass-rate on the first-attempt at the state exam to become a certified peace officer.
“You are a Texas peace officer, the very best in the world, with that power comes enormous responsibility," Lacy Lakeview Police Chief John Truehitt, the graduation speaker, told the cadets. "Most importantly, ask yourself 'would my mother be proud of what I did?'”
Stapleton said he was proud of the group.
"The rewarding part of my job is seeing them come in with this idea, and then watching them mature throughout the academy," he said. "This class had a lot of different personalities, different ages, this was a good class, they cared for each other, they encouraged each other, and sometimes you don't see that."
The class, which went through 22 weeks of training, was diverse in background, gender and age: one of them switched careers at 53-years-old to become a deputy.
"I wanted to work with kids, that was my first dream, then when I fulfilled that, then I wanted to go to work as a peace officer, I always wanted to be a police officer since I was a kid," said Reginald Crawford. "It took me 20, 30 years, but here I am."
Crawford, 53, says he was in the U.S. Army before working for the Texas Youth Commission and then a juvenile justice center.
He says he's also been a personal trainer.
"It wasn't a problem keep up physically, I mean, these 22-year-olds can't handle me," he laughed.
Crawford--who was the class sergeant at arms, salutatorian, and won the 'sharp shooter' award--says he likes the structure of law enforcement and encouraged others considering a career change to apply.
"Come on down, we're hiring," said Crawford.
In addition to Crawford, graduates included valedictorian and class president Annelise M. Kephart, Shauna Rae Abbott, James Aguilar, Frank D. Barron, Case Channon, Tyler Eckblad, Yasmin Rahim, Ethan Sanders, Joe Stevens, Hannah Sykora, Pascual Torres-Pina, and class chaplain Thayer Tucker, Jr.