Kenneth Garner, a 28-year Los Angeles Police Department veteran, was recently promoted to commander in charge of recruiting new officers, reports Copley News Service. Garner said the job ahead of him — helping Chief William Bratton achieve his stated goal when he took office in 2002 of bolstering the force from 9,000 sworn officers to 10,000 — is as challenging as any assignment in his career. The odds seem stacked against him. The 5,545 people who applied for police jobs in the last fiscal year were the fewest in at least a decade, and the number of applicants has been steadily declining since 2002. Last year, a slowdown in hiring caused the applicant pool to dry up. The defeat of a half-cent, countywide sales tax to fund 1,000 more officers didn’t help.
Now, up to several hundred veteran officers who deferred their retirement under a 2001 voter-approved incentive program are expected to be leaving the force in the coming year. Despite this, Bratton said he remains optimistic that he can get 10,000 officers under his leadership. He said he doesn’t even think it is unrealistic that the force will grow to 12,500 in a matter of years. Los Angeles has about one officer for every 400 residents, while other major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago have one officer for every 215 residents. Garner wants the LAPD to recruit potential officers as systematically as some colleges recruit athletes. He hopes to have scouts scattered across the city looking for prospects in what he calls a “community recruiter program. Clergy members and community and business leaders will take a three-hour course to learn the qualities that make a successful officer candidate.