The Colusa Police Department is having a hard time recruiting and retaining officers. Police Chief Josh Fitch is hoping that sponsoring an applicant through the Butte College Law Enforcement Academy will help him address that issue.
The city council is on board, having authorized a general fund expenditure of no more than $25,000 to do just that in a unanimous decision at last week’s meeting.
“The idea is – as you guys know, we always have a hard time finding cops,” Fitch told the council. “There’s many reasons for that, that we don’t necessarily need to go into. I recently put two (applicants) through background, and neither one of them could pass.”
Fitch said he was recently approached by a local, younger person in the community about a sponsorship.
“That gave me the idea of, ‘Well, I could probably pull from our community, and get some interest from some people who just can’t afford to put themselves through the academy,’” Fitch said. “… The hope is that you get someone that comes in and wants to stay in the city. They come in and they feel a sense of allegiance because we took a chance on them, we spent the money, and we got them through.”
Fitch added that the police department was currently down one officer – the department is budgeted for nine officers, and currently only has eight – and was currently trying to hire for the open position.
“If we did approve this position and (another) one went through (the hiring process), provided I didn’t lose anyone in that amount of time, then I would be at 10 positions, which is currently not budgeted,” Fitch said. “We could remedy that in July, but right now it would not be (budgeted).”
Councilmember Dave Womble asked whether there was any way the city could be reimbursed if the candidate drops out of the academy before graduating. City Attorney Ryan Jones said that while the city could recoup some its costs for the academy (around $5,500) in such a situation, it could not recoup the $2,400 monthly stipend.
Mayor Greg Ponciano asked whether – assuming the applicant successfully completes the academy – there were any means for the city to ensure the new officer would stay, and “not walk over to another jurisdiction as soon as they got their certification.”
Jones said that the city could.
“I’ve drafted agreements to that effect, and it’s something I can work with Chief Fitch on to have something that makes them feel comfortable – that you know, ‘We want you,’ but also something that has some strings attached, and we’re not going to pay you all the way, and then when you graduate you go to Yuba City,” Jones said.
Councilmember Dave Markss said that he thought the idea was a great one.
“Well, I can speak from personal experience: The County of Colusa sponsored me to go to the academy, and I spent 30 years in county service after that,” Markss said, adding that he was on a three-year contract after completing the academy. “There were about a half dozen of us that did that through the county, and it was money well spent.”
Fitch said he has already received informal interest in the position from two potential applicants by word of mouth, and expected there would be a lot more interest in the trainee position after it was formally approved.
“If the Sheriff’s Office is any indication, they’re doing two days worth of oral boards, and turning away a lot of applicants (for a trainee position),” Fitch said. “So, there’s a lot of interest.”■