Statewide, police applicants failing background checks

OSP

For Oregon’s police agencies and correctional facilities, finding new officers is becoming increasingly difficult. Scores of applicants are failing required background checks, psychological assessments and physical fitness tests.

And many of Oregon’s police and corrections officers are Baby Boomers becoming eligible to retire.

High retirement rates combined with tough recruiting is creating a law enforcement labor gap. According to Eriks Gabliks, this isn’t just a problem for Oregon — it’s a nationwide issue made worse by poor public opinion of the police.

It’s a problem already affecting the number of police patrolling Oregon’s streets and staffing its jails and prisons.

At an Oct. 22 public meeting of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, of which Gablisks is the director, about two dozen high-ranking law enforcement officers discussed the impending gap. Most agreed it was a pressing issue.

In one situation, the Gresham Police Department had 12 openings. More than 200 people applied.

“At the end of the day they were able to offer jobs to two people,” Gabliks said.

Lt. Chris Baldridge of the Marion County Sheriff’s Department said high retirement numbers have left 26 openings for deputies.

“Recruiting and hiring qualified candidates is a true problem right now, especially in the area of finding women who want to work for us,” he said.

The same trend is hitting the Salem Police Department.

“When we have a number of openings that we advertise for, we get a lot of applicants and a very small amount that come out as qualified in the end,” said Lt. David Okada of Salem PD.

The department is expecting retirement numbers to rise in the coming years.

Gabliks said the first place recruits are failing is physical fitness assessments. Those tests require sit-ups, push-ups and running.

Next is the background check, where applicants must truthfully disclose details about their past including prior arrests and convictions, tickets, or other conduct unbecoming of a law enforcement officer.

Gabliks said police chiefs and sheriffs have reported to him that agencies are seeing high “wash out rates” because applicants aren’t being truthful with background investigators.

“They’re seeing people that can’t manage their own checkbook,” he said.

Gabliks said recruiters are reporting that applicants will fail to list prior arrests or drug activity, then say they forgot to add it to their application.

Many applicants are also reportedly failing their psychological exams.

Gabliks said although recruiting is tough, standards can’t be lowered.

“We have to be beyond reproach,” he said.

More than 150 Oregon State Police troopers will become eligible for retirement in the next two years. OSP only has one full-time recruiter.

For the Marion County Sheriff’s Department, there’s job openings, but they need qualified applicants to fill them. The department finds itself between a rock and a hard place. They need deputies, but can’t sacrifice their high expectations for recruits.

“I don’t have a great solution,” Baldridge said. “People provide us with an immense amount of trust. We have to do our due diligence and our checks and balances.”

gfriedman2@statesmanjournal.com, (503) 399-6653, on Twitter @gordonrfriedman orFacebook.com/gordonrfriedman

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