TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – After a difficult year on the recruiting front in 2020, Topeka Police officials are hopeful things will improve this year as they seek men and women to serve as officers in the department.
The topic of recruiting occupied much of the Friday afternoon Special Committee on Police and Community meeting held at the Law Enforcement Center, 320 S. Kansas Ave.
Topeka Police Sgt. Vidal Campos, who has recruited potential agents for the department since 2017, said the number of applicants declined last year.
Campos said this was due to two main factors in 2020: the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited face-to-face recruitment efforts; and unrest across the country following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Campos said that due to COVID-19 precautions, he and other officers from the Topeka Police Department were unable to visit schools, college campuses or military facilities – places where the department has has experienced success in its recruiting efforts in recent years.
Efforts have been made to recruit through virtual means, but they have paid little in terms of dividends. Campos said that none of the three people who signed up for Zoom interviews with him, none ended up taking a test with the Topeka Police Department.
The other issue that seriously hampered police recruiting efforts last year was unrest across the country following Floyd’s death in May 2020.
While the Topeka Police Department had made progress in recent years in recruiting minority candidates, the events of 2020 limited success in this area, Campos said.
Some minority candidates have voluntarily withdrawn from the application process in 2020 because of “everything that is going on,” he said.
“The last claimant who withdrew was a black man,” Campos said. “His family told him that they just weren’t going to support him if he joined the police department.
“I can’t compete with a family member, especially a mom or dad – or a fiance who says, ‘Sorry, if you sign up, we’re not going to get married.’
In addition to these challenges, a successful summer internship program that helped recruit recruits to the department was also suspended in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Due to the issues the department faced in 2020, this year’s 60th Police Academy, which will start on Monday, May 3, will have just nine members, down from 18 it was allowed to hire.
Of the nine, in the 60th Police Academy, five are minorities, he said.
Campos, a 17-year veteran of the Topeka Police Department, said he hopes for a rebound year in 2021. Campos said the department is looking for “the brightest, most diverse and talented people” who ‘he can hire, whether they are from Topeka or elsewhere.
The summer internship program is scheduled to resume this summer, with 11 participants from Washburn University, Fort Hays State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.
Additionally, he said, the department will be allowed to return to military bases as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
He said the Topeka Police Department also plans to step up its recruitment efforts through social media platforms.
Several members of the city council were present for the meeting on Friday afternoon.
Among them, City Councilor Sylvia Ortiz said recruiting new police officers was “very, very important”.
Also in attendance were City Manager Brent Trout and Acting Topeka Police Chief Bryan Wheeles, who acknowledged the challenges faced by the department’s recruiting officers over the past year.
“We don’t recruit from a bubble,” Wheeles said. “We recruit from the real world. “
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