Stacie Hill once dreamed of playing important roles in front of the camera. Today, she is doing just that - although it's not quite the venue she had in mind.
Hill, a deputy for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, puts her acting skills to good use doing training videos and public service announcements for the agency. She jokes that she could still be an actress with guaranteed money instead of starving while she waits for a big break.
"Law enforcement is an awesome career and our department has so much to offer, there is no time to get bored," declares Hill, now a recruiter.
Her department has opportunities in SWAT, corrections, recruitment, air operations, patrol, internal affairs, K-9, crime scene investigation, supervision, narcotics, burglary, sexual assault, homicide, missing persons, high tech, etc.
"We have airport helicopter detail, airport security and security at the county courts," she explains. "There are also positions at the academy teaching in the classroom, defensive tactics or doing background investigations on candidates. We don't want the wrong the person to slip through the cracks."
All new deputies spend two years working at the county's two jails at $19.80 an hour; top deputy salary is $24.07, before incentives. College experience gets you more. Candidates must be at least 18, with a high school diploma or GED, have a valid California driver's license and be a US citizen with no felony convictions.
"We are anticipating more retirements over the next two years which will put a dent in the department. Consequently, I would encourage people to test continuously," she advises. "With so many varied opportunities we get applicants from all backgrounds, and that is wonderful because it makes for a great agency."
"We have a severe shortage of correctional officers to staff the 33 institutions in the state," reports Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections. "Currently we have 29,000 allocated positions and are looking for 2500 to 3000 more."
He pointed to two reasons for the labor shortage: Hiring did not keep up with the prison building boom in the '80s and '90s; and some institutions, such as San Quentin in Marin County and two facilities in Monterey County, are located in high cost-of-living areas.
All candidates must pass written and psychological tests, vision and medical examinations, physical ability requirements and background checks.
"Because of the shortage, we started recruiting out of state," he points out. "It's a good career and the pay is competitive with other law enforcement agencies."
The department does not accept direct lateral transfers, but having prior law enforcement experience is a definite advantage.
"The starting pay, $2,809 per month, is the third highest in the nation" behind New Jersey and Alaska, reports Katie Hagen, CDC recruiter. Top salary is $4,574 per month for a correctional officer and there is no cap for retirement age. Officers can retire at age 50 with 90 percent of their income.
Other incentives add to an officer's base pay. "We have geographic incentive pay ($2,400 a year) for those hard to recruit areas like the expensive Bay Area," Hagen explains. "The department offers educational incentive pay. We like to see candidates with some college because they fare better in the selection process." Bilingual and physical fitness incentives also add to a base pay.
"You can chose where you want to work and there are more promotional opportunities than there are in other law enforcement agencies," she adds. "The selection process is strict and lengthy. For every 20 applicants we get one successful hire." Still, Hagen hopes to end the shortage of guards by filling the CDC academy with new recruits every eight weeks.
Stockton police officer Gregg Olmstead readily admits his department cannot keep pace with the pay scales of agencies in the Bay Area that offer officers $80,000 a year.
Yet Stockton pays better than most in the state, with a starting monthly salary of $3,182 for police trainees, which jumps to $3,517 after academy graduation. Eventually, top pay can go up to $4,746 plus various percentages for education and longevity.
The Stockton Police Department is currently hiring for both academy graduates and police trainees. You must be at least 21, with a valid California driver's license, US citizenship or a resident alien who has applied for citizenship, high school diploma or GED, free of felony convictions and no history of domestic violence.
"Police work is a unique, rewarding career. You have to like the job and have a good time," according to Olmstead. "You see the worst of what society puts out and it's hard to do your job if you don't have a good attitude. But, you can make a difference."
"In this job, we get applicants with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and it definitely helps to have some street smarts," he observes. "It's an invaluable tool just knowing how people think and view law enforcement in general. Most of the time we are doing our best to keep a lid on things. We are all trying to live in a safe society where you are not looking over your shoulder."
Officer Shortage at CHP
Perhaps some of the best opportunities for those interested in law enforcement exist with the California Highway Patrol. Despite the state budget crisis, the CHP was recently authorized to add 300 patrol positions to the statewide force to help counter the threat of terrorism.
The department is actively recruiting men and women, ages 20 to 35. Applicants must have no felony convictions, a high school diploma or GED, 20-40 vision and be a US citizen in good physical, mental and emotional condition.
After extensive written, oral, physical and psychological testing, candidates go to the CHP academy in West Sacramento for 27 weeks. New hires are paid $3,313 a month and medical benefits kick in after 15 days.
"Our goal is to lower the deaths on California highways to ensure the public safety," explains officer Brenda Rice. "I remember when my husband went to the academy, and just seeing his pride in the department and the camaraderie was so enticing that I applied a short time later."
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