When Major Gerald Hansel applied to become a Linn County sheriff’s deputy almost 33 years ago, he was one of more than 200 applicants competing for just a few open positions.
Now, as the Linn County sheriff’s second deputy, in charge of hiring for the department, Hansel said he’s lucky if he sees 20 applicants show up for testing.
“Back in the day, we all grew up wanting to be in this profession, whereas I think today it’s not looked upon maybe in the same light. It’s not necessarily a career. It’s a job, and if it doesn’t work out, they’ll move on,” Hansel said.
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office isn’t alone in struggling to find applicants. Law enforcement agencies across Iowa and across the country have been seeing application numbers decrease for years, with the change even more noticeable in the last few years.
Iowa City Police Chief Dustin Liston said when he was a new police recruit in El Paso, Texas, in 1997, there were thousands of job seekers during each application cycle. Even in smaller agencies in Iowa, it was normal to have several hundred about that time.
“Over about the last decade, that has really slowed down, and certainly over the last couple of years it’s slowed down even more so,” Liston said. “So, we’ve had to become pretty creative in trying to remove as many barriers to the application process as we can, to make sure we get the appropriate number of applicants.”
Larger departments with more city resources, like the Cedar Rapids Police Department, aren’t having as much trouble filling open positions, but Cedar Rapids Capt. Jeff Hembera noted there have been fewer applicants to choose from in filling those roles.
“Like the rest of the country, our applicant pool has been smaller, but we’re finding that in the end we’re still getting good, qualified hires,” Hembera said.
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