Police department battles generational shifts in attracting, keeping new officers

Patrol officer Ashley Durazo, 24, laughs as her fellow officers joke with each other toward the end of a recent shift briefing at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. Durazo has been with the Lawrence Police Department for a little over two years and is among the youngest of the officers.

Now two years removed from an intensive application process, Lawrence Police Officer Dominique Sloan thinks the most challenging part of becoming an officer was the interview.

“It humanizes you,” said Sloan, who was hired in 2012. “When you sit down across from a person — especially a person who’s been doing it for 15 to 20 years — they can really see a sense of who you are and who you are going to become.”

The Lawrence Police Department recently began accepting applications for its 35th Basic Recruit Academy and will begin testing applicants on Feb. 22, continuing until the online application’s March 7 deadline.

The task of finding new officers is changing the career-planning habits of potential recruits change.

Sgt. Dave Hogue has been a large part of the hiring process for five years. During that time, the number of applications received (about 300) and additions to the academy (about a dozen each year) has been consistent. A starker contrast is painted when looking back about a decade, Hogue said, when as many as 300 people would test for three open positions. Today usually 200 people test for 10 open positions. Why the drop? The department doesn’t know.

Patrol officer Ashley Durazo runs a safety check on a weapon as she prepares to begin her evening shift.

“Part of it is I don’t think people realize how smart you have to be to be a police officer or how challenging this job really is,” Hogue said.

Police are also finding something of a generational shift in just how far ahead officers plan their careers.

“I think our generation, they don’t plan as well,” Sloan said. “I think they plan maybe the next five to six years where maybe other generations before us planned 20 years ahead. I think that’s just the culture we grew up in — people want instant gratification.”

Officer Ryan Padilla, who grew up with Sloan in Topeka, found out about the job online while also applying for the Topeka Police Department. “Once you get in here you realize what the department represents, the good benefits,” he said. “It comes down to, is Lawrence going to be my career the next 25 years?”

Through a five-year agreement between the Lawrence Police Officers Association and the City of Lawrence, the department has been able to offer annual pay increases, vacation days and training. This year’s new hires will start at $20.55 per hour.

Patrol officer Ashley Durazo, 24, sits below portraits of police officers from years past during a recent shift briefing at the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. Durazo has been with the Lawrence Police Department for a little more than two years and is among the youngest of the department's officers.

Hogue said he encourages people who haven’t traditionally thought of law enforcement as a career to give it consideration.

To foster this, the Lawrence Police Department annually meets with various groups at Kansas University, including School of Education students and KU Athletics to try to make more people aware that becoming a police officer is an option for them.

“You need people skills more than anything,” Hogue said. “If you’ve got people skills you can do this job. And we will give you the tools that you need for the other things.”