While some employers have adjusted their hiring standards to a tight labor market, Hot Springs Police Chief Chris Chapmond said his department is maintaining a high barrier to entry.
The bar remains high despite the few recruits the department has made recently.
“Everybody has a hard time hiring people,” Chapmond said. “The urge is there to fill vacancies, but you can’t lower your standards. We’re not in a profession where that’s acceptable. You hire bad people, bad things will happen. If we lower our standards and hire the wrong person, it would show. They would make the wrong decision. They would compromise our profession, our trust and our legitimacy in the community.
He said the queue of applicants was “literally in the hundreds” when he joined the department in 1996. Last fall’s recruitment drive attracted 10 applicants, only one of whom was offered a position. Chapmond hopes the recruiting that began last month will generate more interest, as the department has 12 vacancies in the 115 uniformed positions budgeted for 2022.
The starting salary is $43,196. New employees who are already certified law enforcement officers will receive a $5,000 signing bonus from the city. Those who are not certified but graduate from the academy before the end of the year are eligible for the state’s $5,000 recruiting allowance.
Chapmond said officers devolve into the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Department pension system after 10 years and can begin collecting benefits after 20 years.
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Applications for the May 21 test session are available at City Hall. May 13 is the submission deadline and the department will hold an open house on April 13 for applicants. They must be 20 or older and able to pass a rigorous background check, according to Chapmond, which disqualifies 90% of the pool.
“I consider it one of the toughest in the state,” he said. “It’s a 13-14 step process. It starts with an automatic disqualifier list. If you hit any of those disqualifiers, you’re done on the spot.”
The fitness test requires contestants to cover seven times the length of a football field while negotiating a 22-inch hurdle each time and doing 15 push-ups between the second and third passes and 15 sit-ups between the fourth and fifth pass. Before making the final pass, they will drag a sandbag 10 yards behind the end zone.
Candidates who complete the course within the five-minute time limit will take a written test two hours later. Chapmond said the standardized public safety exam tests basic skills, comprehension, writing and math.
“I wouldn’t consider it a tough test,” he said. “We have a pretty high success rate.”
The Public Service Commission will interview and rank candidates who pass the physical and written tests, developing an eligibility or hiring list. The previous list expired after two of the 10 candidates from last fall’s recruiting drive showed up for the round of interviews with command staff.
“This interview takes anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour,” Chapmond said. “For me, this is one of the most important steps in the process because it allows us to get to know them, for them to get to know us and see if it’s going to be a good fit. It’s telling when you bring them into a room and start having deep conversations.”
Prior to the interview with department leadership, applicants will have undergone a thorough background check, polygraph test, and psychological and medical evaluations. Interviews with family members are also part of the verification process.
“If you don’t have the support of your loved ones, it makes the career a lot more difficult,” Chapmond said. “It’s important to us that applicants understand what they’re getting into, as does family. The stress that’s brought home and what families have to endure is tremendous.”
Uncertified hires will complete a 13-week course at Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in Camden or Black River Technical College in Pocahontas. A field training program of at least 14 weeks will follow.
State law allows officers to work in the field for up to a year before being certified, but Chapmond said that’s not an option in Hot Springs. The department’s accreditation through the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police prohibits it. It was the first AACP-accredited agency in the state.
“You always have agencies in the state that hire someone, and they’re actually serving their community before the academy,” Chapmond said. “For us, that’s unacceptable and problematic. We don’t want someone without training or experience serving our community. We want to invest those 10 months in them to make sure they’re properly trained.”