Henderson Police Chief Sean McKinney urged the Henderson Board of Commissioners’ consideration of a lateral hiring initiative at two meetings in May.
He said a lateral hiring incentive is necessary because the department is in dire need of officers on the street. And it’s not getting the number of applicants it used to despite the department’s use of every form of communication to publicize openings.
“We are pushing as hard as we can now, recruitment,” he said in a May 9 presentation to the board of commissioners. “We are pushing and pushing.”
Returning to the commission on May 23, he again emphasized the need for new hires—and quickly.
“We are in a very, very critical place right now when it comes to manpower and rendering services with the summer months coming upon us,” he said.
At the May 9 meeting, he presented a lateral incentive hiring program plan that would allow a qualified police officer currently working in Kentucky and in good standing to transfer to HPD with a sign-on bonus of up to $12,000. Two weeks later, he upped the plans cap to $15,000.
The sign-on bonus amount will be determined by McKinney, the mayor and city manager, he said. It will be based on rank and years of service, among other qualifiers, he said.
That would allow an officer with seven or eight years of service with a position, for example, of trainer to obtain a higher sign-on than an officer with one or two years of experience.
McKinney said that the department has two officers who’ve just completed the police academy and are training in the department’s ride-along program now and two others are currently at the academy.
But the department needs more officers, he said. He said current officers have applied to other departments and turned in their resignation.
In a mid-May interview with the Hendersonian, he said the department used to get hundreds of applicants in a year. Now it may get 20-30, he said.
Furthermore, new recruits take a year to be working at full-speed. New candidate hires must complete the 20-week police academy and then a 13-week ride-along program, and then be on probation for a year.
A lateral hiring incentive, McKinney hopes, would get experienced officers on the street in as soon as 6-8 weeks.
He said the department needs four officers—one for each of the two day shifts and each of the two night shifts.
The program would also allow the city to get an officer on the street much more economically than hiring a new officer. McKinney said a new candidate hire who attends the academy and then goes through the local training program costs more than $70,000 to get up to speed. Without the need for the academy and training program, a lateral hire costs $20,000, McKinney said.
McKinney said there are several reasons for the lack of applicants, including backlash directed at police departments nationwide in recent years, a new pension plan statewide that is less attractive than its predecessor and generational attitudes toward public service in general and police work in particular.
“It’s just a hard sell to convince someone to come to a job that’s so dangerous,” he said. “It’s just tough.”
And he said it’s not occurring just in Henderson, but all over the state and in every branch of police work—local departments, state police posts and sheriff’s offices.
“Everyone is having the same issues we are,” he said. “At this point in time, it has to be a calling that this is what you want to do for sure.”
Mayor Brad Staton in the May 23 meeting directed McKinney to meet with City Attorney Dawn Kelsey and City Manager Buzzy Newman to create a plan and return to the first commission meeting in June.
“We’ll take a look at it and see what we can get done for you,” Staton told McKinney. “We’ll do whatever we can to make sure you have a healthy department.”