Heartland police departments struggle to remain fully staffed

Trouble finding officers

ULLIN, Ill. (KFVS) - Many police departments in the Heartland face the challenge of keeping a full staff of officers.

”It starts in the classroom, that’s what I like to say,” Officer Eric Howard said.

Officer Eric Howard teaches criminal justice students at Shawnee Community College. He believed the shortage is happening for a couple reasons.

“Some of it has to do with all the COVID stuff where it closed in Illinois, it closed down some of the police academies. And then another part of it is the culture that’s happening right now toward police,” Howard said.

He said George Floyd’s death under police custody put negative attention on law enforcement.

“People just maybe don’t want to do it for that reason, possibly,” he said.

Change can happen, and that’s what he teaches his students.

“We try to do it right in here that way when they get out there, they know what things not to do, what’s proper, what’s legal, that’s my whole goal,” he said.

The college’s simulator helps them gain hands-on experience to learn how to handle situations where weapons are needed.

“I also have some professionals in the field come in. Some of the Pulaski County deputies from this county, while they’re on duty, they’ll come in and talk about things and explain things, they’ll bring their squad cars out,” he said.

Officer Howard said the more candidates get out there and apply, it will help local departments tremendously.

“It goes in spurts, you know,” he said. “People want to do it and people don’t want to do it, but it seems like it increasing where more jobs are starting to open up.”

The criminal justice program at Shawnee Community College takes about two years to complete. Meanwhile, some departments are looking at increasing salaries to attract more candidates.

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