It was graduation day at the Southern Regional Public Safety Institute. Bill Correa was one of the 14 cadets who survived the rigors of a nine week training course. "After 21 years in the military, I retired from that," Correa said. "I decided to get into a line of business comparable to what I was doing before."
Police departments send recruits to the coast training academy so the officers can learn what it takes to effectively work the streets. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd said, "Our main concern is get young, educated folks that are very desirous and wanting to be police officers, and not looking at it as just another job."
Newly hired Jackson County deputies make $12.70 an hour. That's about $25,000 a year. After a year on the job, a Gulfport police officer will take home $27,000. Chief Wayne Payne knows that's not a lot of money, especially when "officers can go other places and make more money. And we find that's what they're doing."
At the moment, the Gulfport police force has four vacancies that need to be filled. Biloxi is missing 18 officers. Moss Point is missing three. Chief Butch Gager said that's due in large part to the cloud that hangs over the police department. He said finding replacements may be tough, because of Moss Point's $20,000 starting salary.
According to Gager, "It's always hard to recruit officers when you have the private sector that offers so much more in money and benefits." "That's all right," new recruit Correa said. "The rewards aren't monetary. It's just getting out there and doing some good."
The goal for local police departments is to find more recruits who make money a secondary concern.
On August 11th, Biloxi will give a civil service test to people who'd like to become city police officers. Gulfport just gave a similar test, and 45 candidates showed up.