The Columbus Police Department is thinking outside of the box when it comes to its recruitment efforts in hopes of bringing some new and talented blood into the fold.
The Columbus City Council during its regular meeting on Jan. 15, 2024, approved a new CPD Apprenticeship Program, an initiative in which recent high school graduates or college students enrolled in a criminal justice program will have the opportunity to join CPD in a limited capacity.
“By statute, they cannot perform any law enforcement authority function,” CPD Chief Charles Sherer said. “Therefore, they will perform CST (Community Service Technician) and Animal Control type duties, assisting our existing staff.”
(COLUMBUS POLICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF CHARLES SHERER)
CPD as of mid-January 2024 has 35 officers with three vacancies. It has been no secret even though the department has made some successful hires, it has struggled with recruiting efforts like law enforcement agencies across the country in recent years. It’s also dealt with being an aging department and seeing officers retire from the law enforcement field faster than positions can be filled.
The chief said a negative stigma surrounding law enforcement nationally hasn’t helped, also noting the profession requiring work on nights, weekends and holidays isn’t necessarily attractive to everyone.
Additionally, Sherer said the long and meticulous hiring process often deters people from getting hired because of bad decisions they’ve made in their lives.
With that in mind, Sherer said he was excited when longtime CPD Capt. Todd Thalken brought him the idea for the apprenticeship program. Thalken recalled a meeting in March 2023 when senior police department staff chatted with City Administration about recruitment and retention issues, noting how applicant numbers had significantly dropped. That got him thinking.
“Traditionally, we have hired many officers as college graduates or ex-military. Both of these sources provided appropriately aged individuals who were ‘ready to hire,’” Thalken said.
“There are many people who graduate high school who have no desire to go to college or the military. These people traditionally have gone to other jobs and not considered police work because it requires them to be 21 years old. By the time these individuals were 21 years old, they have already settled into careers.”
CPD is now looking to hire two part-time or two full-time apprentices or a combination or hybrid program of one of each. They would be hired and receive a wage and appropriate benefits based on their status using funds that have been budgeted for full-time officer positions that are currently vacant.
Those interested in applying can do so by contacting the City Human Resources Department at (402) 562-4243.
All candidates will have to go through a cursory background, pass a polygraph, TABE Test and medical exam and departmental interview. If they stay with the program until they’re old enough to attend the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center (law enforcement academy) in Grand Island, they’ll also have to go through the civil service hiring process, which includes a written test, physical agility test, Civil Service Interview, a more complete background investigation and a psychological test.
The Columbus City Council approved the CPD Apprenticeship Program plan unanimously (7-0; Councilwoman Hope Freshour was absent from the meeting) with a motion by Councilman J. Prent Roth that was seconded by Council President Rich Jablonski.
Mayor Jim Bulkley, City Administrator Tara Vasicek and members of the council heaped praise on CPD for its ongoing efforts to keep the community safe.
“We’ve been short for quite a long time. We’ve implemented a lot of good, new policies and programs to get up to staff, and this is another great one,” Vasicek said during the meeting. “The department is doing a great job of hiring when we can when compared to our sister cities … you guys are doing great with what you’ve got.”
Chief Sherer said he hopes CPD can get some viable candidates for the program to give them experience in the field while also helping lighten the load to some extent for his hardworking officers.
“The whole idea between part-time and full-time is that students attending college full-time may not have sufficient time to work full time for us as well. Therefore, a part-time fit might be better,” Sherer said. “Conversely, you may have recent high school graduates who aren’t interested in the military or going to college. We hope to give them another option and influence their career decision by exposing them to a career in law enforcement.”
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