West Valley City police are getting ready to launch a comprehensive hiring campaign to try to fill nearly two dozen vacancies on the police force.
Police Chief Lee Russo said as officers left the department during the economic downturn, the city did not to fill the positions in an effort to save money.
While Russo said that stance was one that many cities across the nation adopted, at one point, that left nearly 30 positions vacant in the more than 170 member West Valley City department.
As of Wednesday he said the department had about 20 vacancies left to fill, and was planning a nationwide push to bring qualified officers into the city.
Russo said it could take two years to bring the department back to full strength.
"We’re not looking for a rapid hiring to get quantity," he said Wednesday. "In the long run, it will cost us if we hire the wrong person."
Already the vacancies have forced the department to constrict the services it offers so that the patrol division can be staffed adequately. Most noticeable to some residents has been the decision to reduce staffing to the community services division, which helps run the city’s popular neighborhood watch programs.
Russo said the department’s push will focus on those leaving or returning from deployments in the military and college graduates.
Russo acknowledged the department probably will have to overcome a stigma left by allegations of corruption and incompetence by its Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. Officers ultimately were cleared of the most serious corruption allegations, but were found to have misappropriated spare change seized during busts and to have used GPS tracking without a warrant.
"We know that we’re going to have to approach this problem differently because we’re going to have to call it a mass hiring," Russo said.
Russo said the department will be stressing that the issues involving the narcotics unit were not indicative of the entire department. And he said the hiring campaign, which will launch in the next couple of months, will focus on why people should want to live and work in West Valley City and on the residents they will serve.
The campaign may include a video and possibly a recruiting commercial that will air on television.
Russo said when his last department adopted a similar campaign, they saw a three-fold increase in applications and were able to turn what could be perceived as negative impressions of the city into positives.
He said that currently about 50 percent of all applicants are rejected — mostly because they have criminal records or bad driving records or can’t meet other minimum standards.
Russo said prior experience is not needed to apply for any of the vacancies. The starting salary, not including benefits, is $38,300.
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