The Payson Police Department may have found 20 recruits to help fill its ranks.
About 40 people applied to take part in the Payson Police Academy that will begin in July. For various reasons, that number was whittled down to 20.
Payson Police Sgt. Rod Mamero, who is in charge of the academy, said the 20 have completed the testing process and are now going through background checks.
"We got people who want to stay here," he said. "We need to capitalize on it. We need to harvest that reserve very aggressively."
The reason for the academy, Mamero said, is to try to get a pool of trainees who could eventually become members of the Payson police force as officers retire or move.
He said the PPD cannot compete with big municipalities when it comes to hiring officers from outside its city.
"We cannot compete right now," Mamero said, adding that he has heard Phoenix is offering bonuses to cover the cost of house down payments to its recruits.
"We cannot compete against the big cities."
Mamero said, instead, the goal of the academy is to attract local talents who have ties to Payson.
Of the 20 potential recruits, 18 are in Payson, while the other two have ties to the community and would be willing to return to the town.
Of the 20 who have passed the initial testing, most have aspirations of eventually becoming an officer. There are a few who just want to give back to the community, Mamero said.
He said right now if a police officer decides to leave Payson, the department has to start from ground zero to find a replacement. It can take as long as a year to fill that position.
Mamero said what compounds the problem is that the potential replacement could not work out while going through the required training.
Building a backlog of recruits is necessary because of the number of Payson officers eligible to retire within the next few years.
To be fully vested, a police officer must work 20 or more years with the PPD.
"We need to be prepared," he said. "We cannot say we will worry about it in three to four years. We need to have a plan in place to fill our ranks. After a while, the well is dry."
Mamero said without the academy the Payson Police Department could find itself in a critical situation.
Currently, the police department is understaffed by three officers, though one position could soon be filled.
Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner said the academy could resolve some of the issues of attracting qualified applicants that want to work and live in Payson.
"We have a lot of hope that this will bring out the local talent (to staff the police force)," Gartner said. "We are really excited about it."
The police chief said the department's history reveals that the leadership of the PPD has come through the reserve program.
He said there are six officers this year who are eligible for retirement.
"That's an eye opener," Mamero said.
The Payson Police department in the past has tried to start an academy through the college, but the cost per applicant was about $4,500.
To be involved in this year's academy, recruits will only pay $500 to offset the department's cost.
Sending a person to an academy out of the city does not guarantee that the recruit will come back to Payson.
Mamero said the PPD right now has two reserve officers and has seen the number of reserve officers over the years range from zero to 30.
The police department focuses on recruits who already have a home, with children in the local schools, to improve chances that they would stay in Payson.
The minimum number of hours a police academy must provide is 585 hours, and Mamero said its academy will go beyond the number that the state requires.
The academy will run for about one year.