The number of officers with the Roswell Police Department has not changed in the past year, but department hiring personnel say they are upping their advertisements and focusing on efforts to recruit new officers regionally.
Hiring personnel say the department has a total of about 98 positions from the chief on down. For the last 10 years, about 10 of those positions will typically be vacant at any given time.
Retention and not recruitment is the real problem, hiring personnel say. Every year the department on average hires 10 to 15 officers, but many of them don’t stay very long. The average time that an officer stays with the Roswell Police Department is four to eight years.
The challenge is attracting recruits willing to stay in Roswell, a city that is geographically isolated from other communities, Donald O’Connor, Roswell Police Officer Association president said.
“It’s hard to get quality applicants from outside the area, and then the ones that do move in only live here a few more years and then want to move back home,” O’Connor said.
Out-of-town recruits often lack the social structure that comes from living near family and relatives, he said.
Hiring personnel said geography can also be a problem because Roswell is often not perceived as having some of the attractions that larger more prominent cities, such as Albuquerque has. They added that another problem is hiring requirements regarding past illegal drug use.
Hiring personnel say that in many cases, salary level is not a key factor in whether someone decides to remain an officer. O’Connor said salary can play a role, especially in a place like Roswell where visiting family or other recreational activities such as concerts can mean spending more on gas or lodging.
“When you live in rural New Mexico, it costs you more to go out and do things,” O’Connor said.
Department hiring personnel say that to draw more applicants, they have increased their advertising in recent years through traditional means such as billboards and radio and also through social media. They also attend more job fairs and career-oriented events to reach potential recruitments.
He added law enforcement agencies throughout New Mexico have sought to offer to incentivize applicants to take jobs and remain with them by offering incentives beyond an officer’s salary, such as bonuses for hiring, retention and longevity or providing officers with additional time off.
Roswell is also working to tackle the issue. In June, the city and the Roswell Police Officer’s Association crafted a new classification and compensation plan for union members.
A press release announcing the plan said it was intended to draw and retain experienced, high-quality employees, that increases levels of compensation as officers and other city employees gain experience and education in their positions.
O’Connor said the plan is a step program that has different levels of compensation for officers and other city personnel.
According to the release, the plan places officers and city employees, including non-union employees in “grades” based on responsibilities. A series of steps allow levels of compensation to increase as they acquire more responsibilities, education and experience.
City hiring personnel said at the same time they have moved away from making trips to recruit officers in other states and parts of the country where there are a large number of law-enforcement training schools.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Roswell Police Chief Phil Smith and City Manager Joe Neeb said the department has hired 20 new officers within the region.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.