While many businesses are feeling a worker shortage, none may be as critical as the inability to fill positions available for police officers and sheriff’s deputies. Between the changing structure of work due to the pandemic and the issues related to the job itself created by current events in the country and civil unrest, both the City of Murfreesboro and the Sherriff’s office are having a hard time filling positions.
“What we do is different from any other job,” said Sherriff Mike Fitzhugh, “It takes a special type of person.” It is not a job that can be done remotely. It is a job that requires showing up every day, on time and ready to handle anything from a fender bender to murder.
Murfreesboro Police Chief Mike Bowen is also feeling the pinch. “We are currently 39 short, and we have 25 ready to retire. [But] it’s everywhere, from Smyrna to Mt. Juliet to California.”
One of the things both police departments are doing is seeing what is happening in other places, learning what departments are doing in other parts of the state and the country, and looking for new ways to handle situations. They have updated both training and equipment.
Murfreesboro Police Department is making sure that all of their officers receive de-escalation training. They are one of three departments in Tennessee offering the training. Instructors teach both a skill set and language usage to help officers find non-aggressive ways to de-escalate a critical situation.
Other Crisis Intervention Training includes mental health training, first aid, and how to develop and maintain good relationships with the public. This program began in Memphis and it is offered here as a 40-hour course to departments across the state.
COVID-19 has increased the homeless issue. Murfreesboro City Police Department has added a mental health services person to the staff, and also developed a Homeless Task Force as these are two critical and interrelated problems.
Updating equipment has included new camera systems, a real-time video crime center, and a dispatch communication center that works with police, fire, and emergency services that stays on the line with a caller until help arrives.
Fitzhugh’s officers’ work reaches beyond that of city police. He is over the jail, security at the new courthouse, and the serving and tracking of all arrest warrants in the county.
One of the things Fitzhugh is doing to ensure the health of both prisoners and his staff is isolating new inmates from the general population for 10 days. They have also put in a new air filtration system in the jail.
Bowen is taking a more focused approach to recruitment. “Military men and women make great police officers because they are used to [strict training].” He is looking at ways to reach more former members of the military. And he is exploring other new ideas for attracting people to the job.