KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – It’s not unique to law enforcement, but agencies tell News Channel 11 that employee turnover and lower hiring rates are causing a strain on the system.
In general, statistics show that turnover in the workforce has been rising in the last few years.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the overall turnover rate is nearly 60% and that employees averaged 4.6 years in their current workplace.
In Kingsport, the police department has changed its hiring policy so people can now apply year-round instead of for a short period of time prior to a police eligibility test, which is held every quarter.
“We’ve recently cut off the application deadline to for this upcoming police testing,” said Tom Patton, Kingsport Police Department’s Public Information Officer. “We will be testing on June 14. However, we do accept applications year-round. So if you didn’t get an application in time for this current testing, you can still go ahead and apply.”
The department currently has 12 openings for police officers and one for a corrections officer, but Patton explained that applicants are kept on an ‘eligibility list’ due to high turnover rates.
The next test date will be in a few months, so Patton encourages people to apply in order to bolster that list.
“And then those applications will be held to our next test day, which will probably be about three or four months down the road because I’m confident we’ll still have some additional vacancies to fill by then,” he said.
He added that what the department is facing is not unique.
“At first we thought it was, but then as we also noticed that the same thing was happening in grocery stores, at restaurants, with school teachers and industry and business,” Patton said. “People are much more portable and just don’t stay with a job for 30 years like they used to maybe 30 years ago. So we are seeing less people show up.”
That’s where marketing became a new skill his department had to learn.
“Twenty-five years ago, it was not unheard of for us to not advertise at all other than just an ad in the paper,” he said. “And we would have 300 people show up for maybe one vacancy, and now we have 12 vacancies and it’s not unusual for us to only have about 20 to 30 people show up. So it’s again, it’s just less people to fill more positions.”
Starting salaries for corrections officers at the KPD have recently been increased to $14.64 an hour, which amounts to $30,455 annually. The starting salary for police officer training at KPD is $17.84 per hour, or $37,107 annually, which is a nearly $1,800 increase.
“To be a police officer, you have to be 21 years old, but to be a corrections officer, you only have to be 18,” Patton said. “So it’s a good way to get some experience when you’re younger until you’re old enough to apply to be a police officer. And also it’s a good way to put something on your resume that is criminal justice-oriented so that when you’re looking at a job as a police officer, you can show that you do have some experience in the field.”
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office also has several openings, Captain Andy Seabolt told News Channel 11. He said the department has one opening in its patrol division and four in its corrections division.
“The Sullivan County Commission recently increased the beginning rate of pay for corrections officers to $16.80 an hour. That has helped with the recruitment in the Corrections Division,” Seabolt wrote in an email to News Channel 11.
Sgt. Nathan Hall told News Channel 11 that though Tennessee Highway Patrol is hiring to fill vacancies in all eight districts across the Volunteer State’s 95 counties, the agency is not struggling as much as other agencies.
He added that the THP is facing turnover issues just like everyone else.
“Especially the younger generation, they see the mighty dollar, so they’re being lured by better pay or better benefits,” Hall said. “And maybe in a different business or something, but it’s usually the younger generation that does that. But it’s not a large turnover rate. Currently, we have about 60 vacancies statewide out of 95 counties. We have currently four vacancies here in Fall Branch; we have 14 counties and in Fall Branch District we only got four vacancies. So we’re doing pretty good here.”
Hall added that the THP has also increased the application window to 365 days a year instead of seasonally as in the past.
At the end of the day, Patton said law enforcement is still a good career to consider and perhaps starting that career at a smaller department is the best bet.
“So when you see lots of this stuff on national news that might be going on in other communities. We’re not seeing that sort of stuff here,” Patton said. “And we have great community support, and we have great training. We have great people here, and you can make a good living here due to a reasonable cost of living as compared to other areas of the country.”
To apply for positions at the Kingsport Police Department, CLICK HERE.
To apply for positions at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, CLICK HERE.
To apply for positions at the Tennessee Highway Patrol, CLICK HERE.