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County police chiefs looking for recruits

Twelve Lehigh County police chiefs are looking for a few good officers in an upcoming recruitment campaign, designed to encourage applications and testing for the next generation of local law enforcement officers.

This will be the third attempt in the last 18 months for the consortium of 12 police departments to consolidate their efforts with one common test and one fee for applicants, instead of multiple tests and fees.

Emmaus Police Chief Charles Palmer said the advantage of the Lehigh County police consortium is that the number of overall candidates tends to be higher than before the consortium was formed and, “we were stepping on each other’s toes trying to attract recruits.”

The 12 departments are Catasauqua, Whitehall, Coplay, Alburtis, Coopersburg, Emmaus, Fountain Hill, Salisbury, Slatington, South Whitehall, Upper Macungie and Upper Saucon.

Three chiefs, representing the 12 police departments, met recently at Emmaus police headquarters to discuss the challenges they face as they seek applications in the next wave of hiring to fill 18 vacancies in Lehigh County police departments.

The three chiefs were Whitehall Police Chief Michael Marks, Palmer and South Whitehall Police Chief Glen Dorney, All agreed the biggest obstacle is appealing to young men and women who are not dogged by past bad choices that come to light in the recruitment and testing screening process.

The overall challenge of 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.

Police chiefs from across the country say this issue has the potential to overshadow nearly all other considerations.

Dorney observed that a decade ago, when he was an officer in the Allentown Police Department, the crop of candidates in each hiring wave was more than 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,” Dorney said, “we are not willing to drop our standards of integrity, intelligence, character and competence.”

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 not qualified candidates to hire, all the technological advances, increased sensitivities, cultural awareness, improved training and strengthened leadership will be pointless, one observer said.

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 their 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 that 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.

When asked to consider whether the national wave of negativity toward law enforcement officers in some quarters of our society would affect the Lehigh County chiefs’ efforts, Palmer said, “I guess we’ll find out shortly!”

A single unified application is available at lehighcountypolicetest.com.

Police chiefs from 12 Lehigh County departments are encouraging applications in an upcoming recruitment campaign. PRESS PHOTO BY JIM MARSH