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El Paso police officer applications down nearly 50 percent from average

El Paso police (credit: KFOX14/CBS4)
El Paso police (credit: KFOX14/CBS4)
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On average, the El Paso Police Department receives around 5,000 applications per class, but the numbers for their current class show that number of applications has been cut in half.

"The number of applications is down. Why they’re down, police is just not a profession people are seeking. It’s being demonized in the media and being demonized throughout the country and there’s a lot of people that don’t want to go through what police officers go through. So, that could play a part, but we’ll know more as time goes by," Sgt. Robert Gomez, public information officer for the El Paso Police Department, said. "Policing throughout the country is under a lot of scrutiny right now and I think it could play on a person's decision making to try to come into this profession. The job market is competitive or was before coronavirus. The economy was booming, people were finding jobs and a lot of people decided, or young people decided, that becoming a police officer wasn’t their first choice."

Numbers in The El Paso Police Department's current class shows only 2,619 applications have been received, 677 passed the written exam and 441 passed the job simulation. EPPD began the academy process with 34 recruits and is projecting to graduate 30 police officers in October.

"Being understaffed in any capacity doesn’t just affect response times. It affects a lot of other aspects of the police department because we’re constantly having to adjust to make sure we are responding to calls for service," Sgt. Gomez said. "And what I mean by that is that the El Paso Police Department has adopted the community policing philosophy, and anybody that knows that type of policing knows that it’s very labor-intensive, meaning we need units to have a neighborhood dispute resolved. We need people dedicated to fixing problems that aren’t normally a police matter but have fallen within the police matter. We need personnel to adjust to the growing mental health crisis of the United States and address a lot of those problems. We have created the Crisis Intervention Team unit and we would like to have a larger unit to help the citizens of El Paso with their issues and get them to treatment they need and respond to those calls accurately and timely."

Right now, the police department has 1,253 employees and 80 vacancies. Sgt. Gomez said as of two weeks ago, nearly 50 people have quit or retired so far in 2020.

"As far as 2019 we had 49 officers leave the department: 21 retirements and 28 other which could be resignations, rather they are resignations because normally we don’t transfer to other departments. As of 2 weeks ago, we’ve had 24 retirements in 2020 and 25 people have left for other reasons. In talking with a Chief Allen, he is adamant that we will not lower our standards just to get bodies. Policing really needs quality people to do this job and lowering our standards just to get a body is not something the El Paso Police Department wants to do. So as far as I know today, the process will not change and we will still be scrutinizing applicants very carefully and screening them as best as we can," Sgt. Gomez said.

After recent protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, Sgt. Gomez said it's hard to tell if this will impact the numbers for their next class.

"Being a police officer right now is definitely difficult but when you’ve been a police officer for a long time you know that these things swing like a pendulum. Police are in a positive light and something occurs and then police become in the negative light. It’s something that’s happened throughout my career and will continue to happen," Sgt. Gomez said. "We won’t know until we open our applications again for the next academy, which we’re projecting possibly early 2021 maybe we will be accepting applications again. So, it’s going to be a while for the El Paso Police Department to determine what’s happening on social media and the media and if it will have effect on our recruiting."

Sgt. Gomez stressed the importance of a police officer's job, especially right now.

"What officers do is they focus on their job and they focus on what they swore under an oath to do, which is to protect the citizens of El Paso, and they continue doing that every day regardless of social media or criticism. A lot of things right now were going out nationwide about defunding and, to be honest with you, if people want better police officers they need to increase funding and target training, and have enough officers to address issues that are not necessarily police issues but are beneficial to a police officer such as neighborhood disputes or community meetings," Sgt. Gomez said. "People of El Paso overwhelmingly support us. We can’t leave the station or go eat or go to a call without having somebody come up saying that they appreciate us. I know things are hard throughout the country right now, but specifically in El Paso we know we have a lot of support from the citizens and we appreciate them coming up to us and supporting us."

Sgt. Gomez said right now the department is not looking into another academy until 2021 due to COVID-19 concerns. He said the department is working on a game plan for recruitment for when the application process opens up.

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