The Gilbert Police Department — with the lowest officer-to-population ratio in the East Valley — finally has the money to put more officers on the street.
But so far, the department is having a difficult time finding them.
The Town Council has authorized 30 new officer positions in the past year, but the department has hired just 18.
Of the 18 hires, nine have graduated from the police academy and are undergoing field training or have been placed on the street, while nine remain in the 16-week academy, said Gilbert police Sgt. Mike Angstead.
The department has actually hired 22 officers since the funding was made available, but four of them either resigned, were terminated or did not finish the academy, Angstead said.
He added that during this period the department also lost officers to attrition, but those figures were unavailable.
"We have a lot of vacancies and can’t seem to hire them fast enough," Lt. Joe Ruet said. "It’s not as easy to find officers today as it was 10 years ago."
In November, the council made an emergency authorization for the department to hire 15 officers in a move to halt Gilbert’s ever-worsening officer-to-population ratio. In June, the council voted to fund 15 additional officers during the 2004-05 fiscal year.
The council is planning to hire 80 officers over the next five years to reach a ratio of 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents by 2009, a ratio previously identified as the minimum standard by a council subcommittee that studied police services.
Gilbert’s ratio has dropped to less than one officer per thousand residents, while Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale have ratios ranging from about 1.4 to about two officers per 1,000 residents. Gilbert adds about 1,000 new residents per month, meaning the police department needs to add one new officer per month to keep pace.
"The staff is clearly dedicated to screening applicants as soon as possible and getting them through the system, but at the same time we don’t want to hire people who aren’t qualified," Town Manager George Pettit said.
Ruet said it typically takes about nine months from the time an officer is hired to being on the street.