SIERRA VISTA — Despite rigorous hiring standards, the Sierra Vista Police Department is almost at capacity for the first time in years, with only two vacancies on the books, Police Chief Adam Thrasher said Thursday.

The department has hired five officers so far this year — they’re well ahead of 2018’s total of six — and with two new incentives being offered by the agency soon, police officials expect to hire even more officers to fill slots that will soon become vacant as top brass begin to retire over the next five years and those behind behind them are promoted.

The agency is budgeted for 66 officers, and two non-budgeted officers, Thrasher said. At the moment, 64 positions are filled to include everyone from the newest beat cop up to the chief.

“We’re pretty happy with how the recruiting efforts are going lately,” Thrasher said.

But it’s not easy getting into the Sierra Vista Police Department.

The city’s standards are a bit more stringent than the state’s, Thrasher said, starting with educational requirements. Starting officers must be 21 and have a two-year college degree, or 60 college credits. Thrasher said the agency will hire individuals with 30 credits, but they must obtain their remaining classes at the police academy in Douglas. The state only requires a high school diploma or GED.

Each individual police department can tailor its standards, Thrasher said, and Sierra Vista Police is the only law enforcement agency in the state that requires the two-year degree.

While starting salary for a recruit is $48,000 a year, the last three years have been slim, according to recruiter Lilly Perry. In 2016, the agency saw 187 applicants, but only three people were hired. In 2017, the number of applicants rose to 233, but again, only three hires.

Last year, the pool of applicants dropped to 183, but twice as many people were hired with six, Perry said.

So far this year between 60 and 70 people have applied and five have been hired. Four of those recruits are still in the police academy and one is in field training.

Perry said the number of applicants doesn’t always mean they are viable candidates for a position.

“Recruiting is always challenging,” Perry said. “In 2018, 33 of the applicants did not meet the minimum requirements right out of the gate. Another 24 just didn’t follow through to schedule themselves for testing.”

Perry says she is trying to change that by reaching out to applicants to help them navigate the arduous road that is the recruitment process.

“I’m trying to make a personal connection with them,” she says. “(I) invite them to do ride alongs with our officers and try to guide them along through this whole process.

“There are other agencies out there and it’s a competitive area. We have a little bit of higher standards,” Perry added.

She hopes that two new incentives that will soon become part of the hiring process will bring even more officers into the fold. They include waiving the education requirement for lateral officers who are already certified in Arizona and have a year and a half of experience on the job, and accepting military joint services transcripts from individuals in the armed forces who want to become police officers.

“They (the applicant) can take that transcript to an accredited college, pay the fee and get a certain amount of credits,” Thrasher said. “If they have at least 30 credits, we will accept that (for hiring.)

“The numbers have gone down, but I truly believe based on the (application) packets I’ve seen that we’re getting a higher quality of applicants. We are starting to see certified officers from other states applying.,” Thrasher added.

Perry said now is a good time to apply.

“With all the retirements we have coming up it presents a huge recruiting challenge,” Perry said. “But it’s also a good time to get on board with Sierra Vista Police because there’s going to be a huge opportunity for advancement, as well as a lot of opportunity for special assignments. It’s going to create a lot of vacancies in those areas too.”

The 48-year-old Thrasher and three other members of his command staff are slated to retire within the next five years. At least 13 other officers also are eligible, for a total of 17, the chief said.

“The retirements are going to be staggered,” Thrasher said. “As part of the process we do development of individuals.”

There are six sergeants and eight corporals in the department. Aside from him, the chief’s command staff includes the deputy chief, two commanders and three lieutenants. The chief said he is confident that officers coming up through the ranks will be able to lead the agency in the future.

But more education is required in order to be promoted, Perry said. Anyone aspiring to be a lieutenant must have a bachelor’s degree. A commander’s position demands a master’s degree and it must be obtained within three years. It can be in any discipline, Perry said. The city of Sierra Vista does help with tuition when the budget allows, Perry said.

Recent hire Scott Bosworth is one officer who intends on advancing in the Sierra Vista Police Department. He started there in May 2018 after serving a year and a half with Tucson Police. The 42-year-old father of three said he wants to work his way up the ranks and make his career in Sierra Vista.

“My goal is to make supervisor,” said Bosworth, whose mother grew up in Sierra Vista. “I want to get into corporal, and then sergeant, then work my way up. I think it would be a lot of fun. I’m not going anywhere.”

Anyone interested in applying to join the Sierra Vista Police Department can contact recruiter Lilly Perry at 520-452-7500 or svpdjobs@sierravistaaz.gov.

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