In need of Spanish-speaking officers, Baltimore Police Department recruiters set up shop on a university campus in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Baltimore Sun reports that what they found astonished them: applicants by the hundreds, packing classrooms in the stifling heat to listen to the pitches from recruiters while wiping brows dripping with sweat. Many work for the government, including local police forces. Some had left their posts and came wearing their uniforms and holstered sidearms, searching for new work and better wages in Baltimore.
The Baltimore Police Department is not the only agency to come to the island in search of Spanish-speaking officers. Atlanta came here, as did Washington, which hired 35 officers in 2002. Of those, 21 remain on that force. The other 14 returned to Puerto Rico mainly because they or their family were homesick. Baltimore is down 130 officers amid a cutthroat recruiting climate for U.S. law enforcement agencies. With the city’s Latino population booming, police say they need more bilingual, Spanish-speaking officers on the streets. About 450 people came to apply and take tests in San Juan. Three days later, the recruiters traveled 60 miles west to the waterfront town of Arecibo, where more than 500 people packed a local community center. More than half of the applicants cleared the first hurdle, the civil service test. If hired they would have to complete Baltimore’s six-month police academy, regardless of their experience and training. The department would reimburse them $1,000 for the cost of moving.