Lawmakers, law enforcement work to address major officer shortages

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As law enforcement agencies across Texas are facing officer shortages, local police departments and lawmakers are working to make police work more attractive to potential recruits.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s LA, Portland, Boston,” said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday. “Everyone’s having difficulty hiring.” 

Casaday says it’s a result of a few big factors.

“It is a very dangerous job and getting kids these days to do this type of work is a challenge.”

Casaday adds that public sentiment toward officers isn’t the best. And, he says, a good economy doesn’t help, either. 

“People would rather work in the private industry right now, than work in the public,” Casaday said.

As of the beginning of April, APD was short 128 officers. Casaday says that’s why he pushed for a pay raise for cadets willing to come to Austin’s Police Academy.

Once they finish and become Austin Police officers, they’re some of the highest-paid officers in the state. However, convincing them to spend the better part of a year in the academy on much less has been a challenge, Casaday says.

“You’re asking people to pick up their families, leave their jobs in other cities, to move here to Austin for $40,000 a year. And there’s just a lot of people that can’t afford to do that,” Casaday said.

The City of Austin just approved bumping cadet pay up to $50,000, effective for the next Academy, which starts in June.

Austin isn’t the only place agencies are struggling with recruitment, however.

“We are a thousand short in Dallas. We’re 1,500 short in Houston,” said Representative Lynn Stucky, of Denton.

Stucky decided to get creative. He authored a House bill that would pay for some college in exchange for time worked on the police force, similar to what is done in the military.

“That’s what they’re calling it — the GI Bill for the police,” Stucky said.

The state would fund student loan repayment for officers year-by-year as they work to get a degree.

“If you’ve got somebody looking at multiple careers and the beginning salaries are very similar, this is basically going to be a $4,000 per year raise,” Stucky said. “To help them pay off some of the debt they have.”

Stucky’s bill passed the House Wednesday, and a similar bill unanimously passed in the Senate Tuesday. The Senate bill would offer more in loan repayment — $30,000 after four years of service in law enforcment.

Stucky’s House bill would offer $20,000 after just a year.

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