police academy

Sierra Vista Police Department Commander Lawrence Boutte teaches a police academy course on the Cochise College Douglas campus.

Part of what sets communities apart are those who help protect them. In an effort to have a good reputation with the residents of Cochise County, the different law enforcement agencies have different methods of building a positive relationship with the community.

One of the reactions of having a positive input with the community is it helps attract locals to join the county’s law enforcement agencies. Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels and Sierra Vista Police Department Chief Adam Thrasher agree there are challenges in recruiting officers and deputies to Cochise County but there are methods to help attract them.

“To be attractive for (potential deputies) we have to be respected by the community,” Dannels said. “We own our daily decisions but the community holds our reputation.”

Between the two agencies there are 160 full-time positions for officers and deputies. Dannels has 92 full-time positions while Thrasher has 68 full-time positions. Neither law enforcement agency was fully staffed at the time of the interviews.

While SVPD has 65 of their positions filled as of January, Thrasher is concerned about the near future.

“The last few years we’ve had a heavy focus on recruiting because we have lots of (officers retiring),” he said. “We have five retirements in 2021.”

SVPD has a 2% to 3% success rate for applicants because of the long process and high standards. According to Thrasher, SVPD is the only department in the state that requires officers and new recruits to have 30 credits from an accredited college. The recruit will receive an additional 30 credits from Cochise College when they complete the academy. Thrasher noted that the education requirement may be waived for experienced officers who transfer to the department from another agency.

“(One of the biggest challenges with recruiting is) it’s a difficult process to get through to begin with,” SVPD recruiter Lilly Perry said.

No matter the agency, recruits have to go through a series of tests and interviews upon completion of the application. If the applicant makes it past the written and physical test as well as the psychological evaluation they will be sent to the academy at Cochise College.

Thrasher and Dannels agree that having a local academy is the biggest and best tool they have for recruiting new officers and deputies. Dannels says having a local academy helps attract local recruits as well as recruits from Tucson. Participants in the academy live on the Douglas campus and are trained by SVPD and CCSO personnel.

Recruits have to be 21 years old before graduating the academy to be certified. The age requirement is determined by the state and is standard across Arizona. The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board created the policies that all agencies have to follow. According to the AZPOST website, “The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board stands to foster public trust and confidence by establishing and maintaining standards of integrity, competence, and professionalism for Arizona peace officers and correctional officers.”

In addition to paying for the recruits to complete the academy, the agencies provide new hires with a stipend for uniforms and equipment as well as pay then a salary. Dannels said it costs the department $100,000 per recruit, which is why it is important for his and other local agencies to keep recruits as long as possible.

“If I invest in a (recruit) I don’t want to lose them,” Dannels said. “We have an 11 percent turnover with our deputies and it’s double for our detention officers.”

Detention officers have a higher turnover rate for a number of reasons. Dannels believes that the main reason is that the pay isn’t at the level it should be for the level of work they do as well as the infrastructure challenges at the jail.

“People want to be proud of where they work,” he said. “It’s hard to be proud of the jail.”

Local law enforcement agencies try to have strong relationships with schools, which can lead to homegrown officers. High school graduates can become detention officers, which can be a gateway for them to become a police officer or deputy.

For more information about SVPD visit the city of Sierra Vista’s website.