More aggressive recruiting efforts by the Columbia Police Department are showing promise as the department has received numerous applications from individuals seeking to become officers.
Police Chief Skip Holbrook said since the department kicked off the campaign in April, about 354 people haven shown interest in becoming officers. Of those, 189 submitted applications, something that Holbrook called a “great sign.”
“I am ecstatic about that and it’s a great testament to aggressive recruiting,” Holbrook said. “We have to strategically grow with the city and I feel that the department hasn’t been growing with the city so far.”
Holbrook said he has deployed his “best and brightest,” officers to actively speak at job fairs, and even though filling the 39 vacancies in the department is a tall order, Holbrook said he is confident there will be a good response. The department also is developing a recruitment video but it has not been determined just how that will be used.
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Holbrook said that recent annexation has increased Columbia’s size by 5 square miles, adding the city has added 2,400 residents since 2010. That growth has created nearly 3,000 more calls for police services.
The chief said he also would like to grow police presence in the city’s entertainment districts –including Five Points, the Vista and Main Street – from its current nine officers to 29.
“With The Hub (the 848-bed apartment tower that will open on Main Street in August) and the growth of the Vista, all of these present cause for service challenges where we have to grow and it is something that we are looking at right now,” Holbrook said.
In April, Holbrook told Columbia City Council that it would cost about $1.2 million to hire and equip the 20 new officers who would be assigned to the entertainment district.
“Our focus is to reflect the community we serve and we want a recruitment campaign that attracts females and minorities,” Holbrook said.
Holbrook previously reported that of the department’s commissioned officers, 67 percent are Caucasion; 29 percent African-American; 3 percent Hispanic, while one officer is Asian. The gender breakdown is 7 percent Caucasion women; 6 percent African-American women; 1 percent Hispanic women; and no Asian women, he said.
Holbrook said that salaries are affecting the amount of officers staying with CPD once they are hired.
“Our retention is hampered by our salaries,” Holbrook said. “Our starting salaries are competitive, but the salary compression issue that we currently have is negatively impacting retention rates.”
The base starting salary for a CPD officer is $30,494.44 and varies with the amount of previous education received after graduation from the Criminal Justice Academy. Officers who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in any related field receive an annual salary of $34,368.74, according to CPD’s website.
Other local law enforcement agencies such as the Richland County Sheriff’s Department offer starting deputy sheriffs around $35,000, according to the Sheriff’s Department website. Other departments like West Columbia Police Department offer a $30,517 base salary according to their website.
“The city is conducting a comprehensive study on salary rates and we hope that will address some of our issues,” Holbrook said. “What we want is the best police force that we can train, and we will pay them for that professional development.”
Holbrook said the department currently has nine officers in the Criminal Justice Academy and 13 officers who graduated last month now involved with field training.
Reporter Clif LeBlanc contributed. Reach Cahill at (803) 771-8305.