Police chiefs seek a few good officers
By JIM MARSH
Special to The Press
Twelve Lehigh County police chiefs are looking for a few good officers in an upcoming recruitment campaign to encourage applications and testing for the next generation of law enforcement officers.
This will be the third attempt in the last 18 months for the consortium of police departments to consolidate efforts with one common test and fee for applicants, instead of multiple tests and fees.
Emmaus Police Chief Charles Palmer said the advantage of the Lehigh County consortium is the number of overall candidates has tended to be higher than before the consortium was formed.
“We were stepping on each other’s toes trying to attract recruits,” Palmer said.
The departments are: Alburtis, Catasauqua, Coopersburg, Coplay, Emmaus, Fountain Hill, Salisbury, Slatington, South Whitehall, Upper Macungie, Upper Saucon and Whitehall.
Three chiefs from the 12 police departments met recently at Emmaus police headquarters to discuss the challenges as they seek applications in the next wave of hiring to fill 18 vacancies.
The three chiefs are: South Whitehall Police Chief Glen Dorney, Whitehall Police Chief Michael Marks and Palmer.
All agreed the biggest obstacle is appealing to young men and women who are not dogged by past bad choices that come to light during the recruitment and testing screening process.
The overall challenge for law enforcement is the need to uphold the highest standards of professionalism in an increasingly violent society, while ensuring the applicant pool is sufficient to meet the needs of the communities they serve.
Dorney said that a decade ago, when he was an officer with the Allentown Police Department, the crop of candidates in each hiring wave was well over 100.
Today the number of applicants across the board is down by about one half, he said.
“While that makes our staffing efforts more difficult, we are not willing to drop our standards of integrity, intelligence, character and competence,” Dorney said.
Another difficult obstacle to overcome for local police departments is the evolving tolerances of society as a whole for minor crimes and illicit drug use.
As the culture accepts the use of marijuana and other drugs, more and more young people engage in behaviors that will ultimately keep them from getting a criminal justice job.
If there are no qualified candidates to hire, all the technological advances, increased sensitivities, cultural awareness, improved training and strengthened leadership will be pointless.
The increasingly sedentary lifestyle of younger generations, the increased occurrence of obesity, and the relatively low fitness level of so many people have also led to a smaller group of potential police officer candidates, as fewer applicants can meet weight and physical fitness standards, one national study found.
Marks said those who have a military or sports background are more likely to find success in the fitness category.
The three chiefs agreed applicants who grew up in their hiring communities may have an innate advantage.
“Those local recruits know the territory and the culture of their community, and they know a lot of the people they would be called on to serve and protect,” Marks said.
The chiefs were asked if the national wave of negativity toward law enforcement in some quarters of society would affect their hiring efforts.
“I guess we’ll find out shortly,” Palmer said.
The written exam for police officers will be on Sept. 26 with Sept. 11 the deadline for applications.
According to Dorney, at a recent South Whitehall commissioners meeting, the physical assessment will be given Oct. 3. A single unified application is available at lehighcountypolicetest.com.