Want to be a police officer? Application deadline is Wednesday; new chief says diversity is a priority for department

“You have to really want to do this. You can’t just look at it as a job.”

A line of graduating recruits stand before family members, friends and other officers during a graduation ceremony on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 at the DoubleTree Hotel.

With the current class of police recruits graduated from the academy on Friday, the Lawrence Police Department is about to start picking next year’s class.

Wednesday is the application deadline to become a Lawrence police officer next year.

New Lawrence police chief Gregory Burns Jr. said recruitment — particularly recruiting diverse candidates — is among his priorities for the department.

He said diversity in color, gender, age and general life experience is crucial to being a “complete” police agency.

“The police department should be a reflection of its community,” he said. “But on the flip side, not everybody wants to be the police anymore.”

“You have to really want to do this. You can’t just look at it as a job. It has to be a calling.”

As of Friday, the department had received about 160 applications, Sgt. Amy Rhoads said. Although that’s generally lower than years past, it is notably higher than last year, when the department received 135 applicants.

The exact number of spots that need to be filled will be finalized later, but it will be just a sliver of the overall number of applicants.

The Lawrence Police Department is authorized for 155 sworn officers and currently has 149, though with retirements and attrition in the coming year that number could shrink, Rhoads said. This year’s graduating class from the Lawrence Police Department’s in-house academy numbers 10 law enforcement officers: eight with the Lawrence Police Department and two with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

To be considered, applicants must be 21 years old by March 5, 2018, have a high school diploma or GED and be U.S. citizens. Rhoads said college degrees are preferred, and “experience in meeting and dealing with the public is a plus.”

The process includes a written exam, physical agility test, oral interview board and — for finalists — extensive background checks and lie-detector tests.

For those chosen, the academy begins March 5. More information about the application process is online at joinlawrencepd.org.

In addition to other recruiting efforts, the Lawrence Police Department is offering a $1,500 sign-on bonus for officers with a certain skill: fluency in Spanish.

Rhoads said the department has offered bonuses to Spanish-speakers for the past three recruitment cycles, as an extra way to attract officers.

Decades ago, when he first became a police officer in Louisville, Ky., Burns said there were about 3,000 applicants for 20 jobs.

Back then, Burns said, a lot of those people just needed a job, saw the police department was hiring, and applied.

“I don’t really envision people doing that anymore,” Burns said. “You’ve got to want to help people, you’ve got to care about people, you’ve got to want to enhance your community.”

Law enforcement is a tough job, and departments all over the country are competing for the same people, he said.

“There’s inherent risks in being the police that just come with the nature of the job,” Burns said. “You have to come in Day 1 being prepared to accept those risks, but also wanting to accept the rewards.”