GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport police said national news stories casting law enforcement in a negative light are making their efforts to recruit new officers more challenging.
Sgt. Tony Alves said being a Gulfport police officer is the most interesting and rewarding job he's ever had. He's been on the force for 11 years.
"One minute I could be a traffic accident," said Alves. "I could be consoling a victim in a heinous crime and then going to something where I'm scared out of my mind, but I've got to get in there and I've got to help somebody."
Right now, Gulfport has 156 sworn officers, which is less than the 172 officers the city would like. With about 10 officers due to retire this fall, recruitment efforts are underway at job fairs, college campuses and military bases. Officers admit, with brand new officers starting at $32,330 a year, hiring is a challenge.
"When I'm speaking to a lot of individuals, salary is an issue. We always say law enforcement, fire, teachers, we don't make enough," said Sgt. Damon McDaniel. "I tell them if they're seeking law enforcement for just the salary, then the Gulfport Police Department will not be the agency that they'll come work for. But, if they want to come to a good agency where they can get some really good experience working here and work around a good group of officers and civilians through our department, then the Gulfport Police Department would be a good agency to work for."
Another recruiting obstacle is the bad publicity law enforcement has been getting lately.
"When you have the news headlines and these different videos through social media that are portraying law enforcement in a bad light, it does, I believe, hinder some of the recruiting processes," McDaniel said. "Because, they're starting to see videos out there of what law enforcement is doing, whether it's racial or it's just law enforcement in the community. A lot of these videos, I think, don't help when you've got officers out there that are doing the right thing, that are giving the community that safety that they're supposed to receive."
Gulfport police say people interested in becoming police officers must first submit an application at www.gulfport-ms.gov/police/employment.html, then take the civil service exam. The test will next be given April 30, at 3 p.m. at the West Side Community Center.