After years of trying to fill vacancies, the Payson Police Department’s aggressive ad campaign last year brought in dozens of applicants, resulting in six new officers.
The officers, all of whom are new to law enforcement, include Nick Bogatko, Nathaniel Mullins, Fernando Torres, Garth Linkey, Paul Snyder and Andrew Marchesseault.
But the department has already lost one of those new hires. Marchesseault reportedly determined a few weeks ago that police work just wasn’t for him, after spending seven months in training and out on the streets — all at Payson’s expense.
However, Police Chief Don Engler is still happy to have the five new officers and has not given up on reaching the department’s quota.
The department is currently authorized for 30 officers, but sits at just 27.
Despite the shortage of officers, crime has not increased according to official statistics — although the number of complaints has risen.
Engler’s first priority with the new cops: give the existing staff a break.
Officers have had to work overtime to cover holes in the schedule and the new guys will help bring balance.
“It is outstanding to get some additional help here,” he said.
His second priority: assign one officer to traffic enforcement.
It has been years since an officer was dedicated to writing speeding tickets and making drunk driving arrests. After officer Alan Dyer retired from a career of collaring speeders on back roads, the department didn’t have the money or manpower to replace him.
That will soon change with a new grant-funded patrol vehicle and one of the new hires focusing on traffic infractions.
Engler said he has fielded many of complaints from residents upset no one is out looking for speeders and stop sign runners.
He said he just hasn’t had the manpower to address the problem, with officers running from call to call.
“We need to get our community roadways safe and people feeling safe enough to enjoy the sidewalks and ride their bikes,” he said.
His final priority: beef up the narcotics and investigation unit.
Currently, one detective handles these investigations, but Engler wants to add two more officers to the effort.
Once the new hires are working patrol on their own (they have been field training with an officer for the past few weeks) Engler plans to move veteran officers onto the unit.
With a resurgence of heroin use and prescription drug abuse remaining high, Engler said it is imperative to move officers onto the unit.
Will the department ever be fully staffed?
Engler admits he has struggled to find enough officers, with several rounds of advertising failing to yield a single candidate. By contrast, some years ago vacancies always drew applicants — often people who grew up in Rim Country.
“It seems like I hired so many of them I exhausted that resource,” he said.
With the local population tapped out, Engler knew they would need to get creative.
Under the direction of Sgt. Les Barr, a hiring committee implemented several unconventional hiring techniques. They put magnetic Now Hiring signs on patrol vehicles, used a flashing billboard in town and put fliers up at businesses. Engler admits some people teased officers about the overt pitch for applicants, but “it was very, very effective,” he said.
Many of the candidates were from the Valley and most had no other law enforcement experience.
While the Gila County Sheriff’s Office has also been looking for new deputies, it is only hiring people already certified in law enforcement. Sheriff Adam Shepherd said the department has four openings and already five applicants with experience. It doesn’t make sense for his agency to spend the time and money to put a new recruit through the academy when they can hire someone off the street with certification, said Shepherd.
Engler said he hasn’t been so lucky.
All six of the Payson’s new hires came with no experience.
But that has its advantages. The department can mold the officers to their needs and best practices. Engler has reserved four spots at police academics for any hires they can round up by January.
The town needs officers to replace Marchesseault and officer Bryan Watson, who resigned several weeks ago. Watson is attending college in the Valley, Engler explained.
Last week, Engler hired officer Amy Bagley from Maryland. Bagley will start with the department Oct. 15.
Engler hopes Bagley fits in with the department as well as the new officers have.
The biggest challenge so far has been learning the community and the roadways.
“It is a huge learning curve when you don’t come from the community,” he said. “The geography of roads is enough with seven North William Tell Circles.”