The number of people wanting to walk the ‘thin blue line’ in Evansville is on the rise. For the first time in three years, the number of applications to become an officer at the Evansville Police Department in 2017 has increased.
Largely seen as the response to numerous high-profile conflicts between the public and police, as well as the ambush-style attacks on officers across the country, the number of applications at the police department steadily declined the past two years, ultimately bottoming out at 191 applications for the 2016 recruiting class. For the 2017 recruiting class, 235 people applied to become officers, according to department records.
In recent years, the decline in the number of applications was prevalent for law enforcement agencies across the country. Evansville was no exception.
“We had people turn in the application but then when a major event happened across the nation like New York City when the officers were ambushed in their car or a situation like the Dallas (police shootings), we would have people on that list call in and withdraw from the process,” said Sgt. Jason Cullum.
The increase in applications for the 2017 recruiting class came as a pleasant surprise, Sgt. Cullum said. The department had worried how long the slow down might last.
“I think we’re seeing the support of the community,” Sgt. Cullum said. “If you’re concerned that your city is not going to support you, the people in the neighborhoods that you work in aren’t going to support you, you kind of have this mindset of, ‘why would I want to go do this?'”
Unlike law enforcement agencies in other communities, the people of Evansville have largely supported the police department, Sgt. Cullum said. Even during moments of tension, the city has been spared from any sort of violent protest.
The larger pool of applicants will allow the department and civilian merit commission to pick the ‘cream of the crop.’
“The bigger the applicant pool, the more likely we’re going to have a larger number of highly-qualified candidates,” Sgt. Cullum said. “In the end, the community wins because they are getting the best of the best coming out and serving in their neighborhoods.”
Rev. Gerald Arnold, the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said the increased number of applicants can only be a good thing, especially when it comes to diversity. Rev. Arnold said the police department has made great strides in the recruitment of minority applicants. The department’s efforts were highlighted last year when a record number of minority officers were sworn-in, Rev. Arnold said.
“I was a part of the police recruitment committee. I know there has been an effort to try to get those numbers up and certainly provide a better cross section of diversity in this community as well,” Rev. Arnold said. “It’s really important because you send a message to younger African Americans in particular that, yes, [they] can be a policeman. They see the uniform and they see what [police] do. That plants an early seed.”
The increased diversity amongst patrol-level officers will also help the department’s specialty units become more diversified, Sgt. Cullum said.
“Over a period of time you’ll start to see them advance through the ranks as supervisors and land some of the specialty assignment jobs, including a detective or school resource officer or crime scene,” Sgt. Cullum said. “They’ll actually increase their representation within the department as well as help diversify the specific units, not just the department itself.”
While the 235 applicants for the 2017 recruiting class still falls short of the high-water marks of 350 applicants several years ago, it shows things are moving in the right direction, Sgt. Cullum said. Once someone applies, the candidate must go through a physical test before going through multiple rigorous interviews and a written test. Only 15 candidates will be selected.
After being selected, officers-in-training go through 17 weeks of instruction at the Southwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy before going through a year of field-training.
Sgt. Cullum said a majority of those that make it through the entire process but are ultimately not selected will still apply again the following year. Sgt. Cullum, who has been on the force for almost two decades, still believes the department is a great place to work.
“We’re big enough that we have good manpower numbers but we’re small enough to where everybody still knows each other,” Sgt. Cullum said. “You can see that we bring in officers from other agencies a lot more frequently than we have officers leave for other agencies. I think that’s a real good indicator of the quality of the department that we have here.”