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Local police departments see decline in officer applications

News 18 is kicking off a two part series about policing in our community. Part one revolves around a continuing problem faced by both Lafayette and West Lafayette Police Departments.

Posted: Jan 13, 2021 6:50 PM
Updated: Jan 14, 2021 12:52 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Both Lafayette and West Lafayette Police Departments are seeing a drastic decline in the number of people applying to become officers.

"It's real easy for police officers, for the system to perpetuate some, basically, racist policies," said Lafayette resident Josh Johansen.

"I wouldn't want to be a police officer in this day and age," said Vicki Smith, who works in Lafayette.

Lafayette and West Lafayette police are facing a growing problem.

"It is very difficult for us to find and recruit, especially minority candidates, but anybody," said West Lafayette Police Chief Troy Harris. "Our last hiring process, we got zero qualified candidates."

West Lafayette has seen a 75 percent decrease in the number of applicants in the last year, and are now down four officers.

LPD is experiencing similar problems and now lack 14 officers.

"Our goal is to get at least 10 applications for everyone opening that we have," said Lafayette Police Chief Patrick Flannelly. "There are times when we've met that goal and times when we haven't."

"We are very concerned on being able to recruit, hire and maintain a full functioning police department," Harris said.
Flannelly said the hiring process is very strict. Without a large pool of applicants, most can't make it through the hiring process.

"You just don't hire someone to step in and fill that role," Flannelly explained.

Harris said their hiring process is extremely thorough as well.

"We're unwilling to settle," said Harris.

The lack of applicants and the rigorous hiring process creates a recipe for disaster.

"That causes a lack of numbers within your agency," Harris explained. "Then you have an overworked police force."

However, Flannelly said there's a cause for the dwindling number of applicants.

"Why would you encourage somebody to enter into this profession right now when there is so much scrutiny? The demands are at an all-time high, the expectations that people have in performance, the lack of understanding on what it actually takes to do the job," said Flannelly.

Harris said "bad apples" could be the reason for the decline in those wanting to become police officers.

"The struggle will be those fringe officers who create the problems for other people and they have to be held accountable," said Harris. That's the only way we're going to have a community that fully trusts our officers."

The dilemma frustrates Flannelly.

"This used to be a profession that was viewed as noble, and now it's not," Flannelly said.

Flannelly believes education on what goes into becoming a police officer and what that role entails is key to getting people to apply.

"This problem runs a lot deeper than just recruitment for law enforcement, explained Flannelly. "It's a pulling of the threads of what holds together a peaceful society."

He said recent events, like the death of George Floyd, have given police a bad reputation.

"Some of it is self-inflicted from the inside," Flannelly said. "Most of it, I think, is just a lack of understanding about what the role entails."

Flannelly believes people need to take the time to understand what police go through daily.

"That takes time and it takes a level of commitment on everybody's part," Flannelly added.

Despite the lack of applicants, both departments refuse to settle for mediocrity.

"We may not find them as quickly as we want. It may take a little bit longer," said Flannelly.

"We'll continue to go out there and search for the right people who will be great representatives of this community, but it is extremely difficult right now," said Harris.

News 18 spoke with Tippecanoe County Sheriff Bob Goldsmith about this topic.

He said although there has been a decline in applicants, he's been able to recruit deputies without many problems.

Coming up Thursday on News 18 at five and six, we will break down legislation written to help lessen the stigma around policing.

We'll have a comment from a local legislator co-authoring the bill and what local police have to say about it.

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