KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- The Kingsport Police Department is seeing fewer applicants and more openings for officer jobs. The struggle to recruit and retain continues to cost taxpayers more money – but the problem isn’t unique to the KPD.
Tom Patton of the Kingsport Police Department said so far, 95 people have applied for their nine entry-level job openings. But filling each one may not happen.
“The likelihood is we won’t find nine quality applicants out of this pool if history repeats itself,” said Patton.”If we rewind about 20 years ago, even 15 years ago, it would not be unheard of to have 200 or 300 people apply for maybe one or two openings.”
In the past year, KPD began waiving a written test for recruits.
“Now that we have less people applying, we don’t necessarily need that filter,” Patton said.
Now when new officers are hired, Patton said they’re less likely to stay on the force for decades like the officers who are now reaching retirement age. This means there’s more new recruits needing to go through a training process, putting a strain on the KPD training budget.
Kingsport City budget numbers show $423,301 was allotted for police training in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Compared to the $272,829 allocated in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, this is a $150,472 increase in the past decade.
Officer shortages aren’t unique to the KPD, often being labeled a nationwide issue. Low officer starting salaries could be part of the problem.
“Starting salary is $16.32 an hour, which computes to $33,940 a year,” Patton said.
This salary for officers with no prior experience is competitive with other law enforcement agencies in the Tri-Cities.
Despite lower numbers of applicants, the KPD says their hiring standards won’t lower.
“If you don’t hire the right folks, you’re opening yourself up to a lot of liability,” said Patton. “It’s not for everybody, but there’s a lot of folks in this career that can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Patton said those with prior police experience will have an increased salary based on experience. The KPD is encouraging anyone interested who meets the specific requirements to apply. The application deadline is this Sunday, and can be found here.