The eight new officers sworn into the Lynchburg Police Department last week are a welcome addition to the force, but 16 more open positions still are a major concern for the department.
Staffing levels of the department have fluctuated, and it was down 38 sworn officers last March, but Chief Ryan Zuidema said the current shortage is still significant. LPD has boosted starting salary rates by several thousands of dollars over the past few years to try and attract more new recruits. Last summer, the department had a total of 174 sworn officers.
The new officers sworn in Thursday — five men and three women — have a bit more training to go through before being able to hit the streets on their own in about five months. Zuidema said four more officers are behind them in the training process, expected to graduate from the criminal justice academy in the winter.
“Your choice to enter this profession at a time unlike any other in history speaks to your commitment to service and your dedication to those in our community,” he told the new recruits.
To adjust for the vacancies, Zuidema said LPD has shuffled officers and resources around depending on the most prominent needs in the community.
Though many law enforcement agencies have reported trouble recruiting and retaining officers — even more so during a period of close scrutiny on equitable policing and more calls to defund police — LPD isn’t the only city department that’s seeing dips in staffing.
Lynchburg Public Works is holding a hiring event Wednesday to try to fill more than 20 positions, both full-time and temporary, that range from garbage truck operators and grounds and street maintenance workers to custodial workers and building mechanics, according to director Gaynelle Hart.
“Really, we run the gamut,” she said.
She said the vacancies mean that about 15% of the department’s positions are open, and it’s competing as an employer with big-box retail stores that’ve been raising their wages. The staffing shortage is much higher than it’s been in the past, and to bridge the gap, she said Public Works has contracted to fill in some openings while some of its workers have been going into overtime.
At Wednesday’s hiring event, Hart said current employees will be talking about their experiences and candidates will be pre-screened for driving roles. Ideal candidates would enjoy working outdoors, could tackle challenges in a variety of duties and would find a job in public service rewarding.
Lynchburg Fire Department Chief Greg Wormser said that although he typically sees rolling vacancies due to the extended periods of training recruits go through, recent vacancy numbers have been higher than average.
Once nine current recruit school graduates join the force, he said LFD will have 10 vacancies, nine of which are positions added within the past year. Those graduates are a bit behind normal schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Wormser said he’s expecting several retirements by the end of 2021.
“Our currently employees have done a tremendous job in making sure overtime positions are filled,” he said, adding vacancies don’t count those who are on long term leave for military service or medical reasons.
Wormser said other fire chiefs across the state are seeing similar shortages and added many people don’t seem to be as interested in public service jobs. Many LFD employees leave for entirely different job sectors.
Though applicant pools are down, he said LFD is finding better qualified applicants than typically expected. To try and get new recruits in action as soon as possible, the department has gotten creative in hiring processes — along with a traditional program that provides top-to-bottom training, those already with certain certifications or experience can be fast-tracked with supplemental training.
Across departments, Lynchburg has job postings for 31 different positions listed on a government jobs website, many of which cover multiple vacancies each.