Huntsville Police Academy: A ‘test of physical and mental skill’

single-meta-cal February 15, 2017

Officers with the Huntsville Police Department have the opportunity to choose from a diversity of assignments. From bike patrols that keep our local events safe to the SWAT team and community resource officers, there’s an assignment for you. Applications open for the next Academy March 6.

No question, it’s not an easy job these days being a police officer.

Nor it is an easy job to find new police officers. So, like all companies seeking extraordinary employees, the Huntsville Police Department (HPD) is reassessing and revitalizing its recruiting effort.

Police Chief Magazine last summer noted that “a recruitment crisis is at hand for law enforcement.” While it’s not at the “crisis” stage in Huntsville, attracting qualified candidates is a challenge it’s meeting head-on.

“The Huntsville Police Department is up to the challenge to make sure that people understand this is still an honorable and proud profession, and we need good people who want to be good police officers,” says Captain Dewayne McCarver, HPD Police Academy Director.

A class of 31 potential police officers has been hired to attend the Academy that begins in March. That number was drawn from some 560 applications submitted, according to McCarver.

In 2010, there were 1,500 applicants from which a similar Academy class was drawn. Discouraging, yes, but cities like Seattle have seen the applicant pool shrink by 90 percent in a similar period.

McCarver believes that “there is this false perception of the public that there is this bad problem with police today, and the statistics do not back that up whatsoever,” he continues. “We tend to get the people with the best character, the people who truly care and who are coming into this for the right reasons.”

McCarver, the Academy team and Huntsville Police will be ramping up the effort to recruit more candidates through a new social media campaign targeting the younger workforce, including a new recruiting video and exposure on Twitter  and other platforms. They recognize there is competition with other professions for good candidates and, indeed, competition from other police departments.

“There are a lot of fantastic people who would be great in this line of work and they’re looking for a way to serve. They just have to know we’re here and they have to know this job will meet all those needs. And we want them.”

Nowadays, he says, job searching is “Internet-based. They decide whether a police department is good or any job is good based on what the website looks like or what they saw on Twitter. We’ve got to step up and face that challenge and realize that is the future, and take advantage of those media outlets to reach good candidates.”

The message to be delivered is as multi-layered as the platforms to be used.

First and foremost, that “it’s still an honorable job,” McCarver says. “It’s a great job. The camaraderie, the friendships you develop are as good as you can get. To be around people who care about other people is an enjoyable job.”

The benefits “are fantastic,” he says. He points to the City of Huntsville’s health care plan for employees, the leave time available for officers, perks like a take-home car and the department’s efforts to make sure officers have the equipment to be successful.

Internally, there are a bevy of units inside the Huntsville Police Department, with opportunity for promotion and to find a niche that fits skill-sets and interests.

The Police Academy itself provides the chance, to borrow from a U.S. Army slogan, “be all you can be.” The test of physical and mental skill brings great appeal to many applicants. Those weeks from early March until the July graduation are not a piece of cake.

“It’s our job to train them to be physically and mentally prepared for the worst things in our world. They will face those,” McCarver says. “So we’re tough. But they’ll be proud of that when they graduate, and they’ll feel prepared.”

Finally, there is the simple message that being a police officer is a way to serve others and serve the community.

“I truly believe this generation is full of great people who want to serve and find a way to make the world better,” McCarver says.

“But,” he continues, “they’re looking in other directions now. Used to, a police career was one they’d flood toward. There are a lot of fantastic people who would be great in this line of work and they’re looking for a way to serve. They just have to know we’re here and they have to know this job will meet all those needs. And we want them.”