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Some Bay Area police agencies say signing bonuses are the key to fixing staffing crises

Police departments and sheriff’s offices across the Bay Area have struggled to attract qualified officers to address a growing staffing crisis. To fix it, some of them are turning to a new and pricy solution: big signing bonuses. 

And, for the first time in years, some of those agencies are seeing a rise in qualified candidates. 

“There were times when there were only two officers on-duty to patrol the entire city, a city of over 70,000 residents,” said Alameda Police Chief Nishant Joshi, speaking about what staffing was like during the pandemic. 

But even before the pandemic, staffing issues had plagued the Alameda Police Department for years. But now, that’s finally changing. 

“Ever since we put this incentive in place, we have had hundreds of applications come in,” said Joshi. 

The signing bonus: $75,000 for qualified candidates. It’s the biggest incentive of its kind in the nation. 

As a result, more officers are applying than ever before and are putting the department back on track to fill its 24 vacancies by mid-2024. Joshi said that the incentive was a key part of the turnaround. 

“To be able to live here in the Bay Area and work here is tough. At the end of a 10 to 12 hour shift, if you have to drive an hour away, that’s going to weigh on your decision-making,” said Joshi. “What we did is come up with an incentive that addresses that concern.”

APD is just one example of many agencies in high-cost communities that are struggling to recruit officers. 

In June, BART — which already offers a $15,000 hiring bonus — voted to boost officer pay by 19% to make them more competitive with other jurisdictions. The agency says it’s already seeing the benefit. 

“We have 50 people who are currently in backgrounds,” said Interim Chief of BART police Kevin Franklin, “which is the highest number that we have ever had. Every agency is competing for a small pool of good applicants.”

Since August, BART’s goal has been to hire six officers a month. It’s an increase they hope will make commuters feel safer and attract more riders back to the trains. 

“That requires staffing. And so I need to fill my vacancies, so I can fill our beats out there and increase our presence,” said Franklin. “We are currently doing it with our existing staffing and we are being very creative in doing that. We are posting some overtime, but everyone needs a day off.”

In Hayward, $10,000 to $20,000 signing bonuses implemented last year are helping to spike applications enough that the department expects to fill its 41 vacancies before the end of the year. 

Vacaville and Richmond police, along with the California Department of Corrections, are all offering similar incentives. 

“This is a team effort,” said Joshi. “It is important that we as an industry are trying to get the best officers and get every agency fully staffed. Because, I think, if we do that, we can certainly impact public safety regionally throughout the Bay Area.”

Source: NBC Bay Area

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