Police Department Looks to Change Recruitment Strategy



The Davis Police Department faces a continual challenge in recruiting new police officers. In the second of our two-part series, the Vanguard talks with Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel about the current challenges and the new strategies they are working to implement.

According to Assistant Chief Pytel, Davis has been getting a fair number of applicants, but they are not successful getting them to the stage of testing. Typically they will get about 40 initial applicants, but only 20 will show up for the physical agility test, which represents the first hurdle.

One they get them to the physical agility test, most of them will make it through that portion. However, then once they get to the interviews th department loses at least three-quarters of the applicants due to things like background issues or the inability “to put a sentence together.”

A huge problem is Brady material. Many of our readers will be familiar with the Brady v. Maryland Supreme Court decision and its requirement for prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, but police officers are required to disclose background information that might impeach their characters as well.

Issues in the background can go towards assessing the judgment of the officer and can be used against the police.

What Assistant Chief Pytel told the Vanguard is that many of the applicants appear to be very good, but as soon the interview starts getting into their backgrounds, red flags get raised.

Assistant Chief Pytel identified three problems that are interrelated. First, right now law enforcement is not seen by young people in a good light. They are not getting the same number, as in the past, of young people who think of this as a career option. People don’t look at public service like they used to. And, for police officers, applicants really need to have the desire for the career in their blood to be successful.

Who wants to be a cop? They need to have a lot of passion. Darren Pytel explained that people rarely succeed who don’t put forth the effort and don’t have the passion. It is not something where you can wake up one day and be a cop. Somewhere along the way, they need to get that bug and become very driven.

Second, the large departments offer more resources for applicants to get training and to have training expenses covered, and so they end up soaking up a lot of the highly-qualified applicants who are able to get their expenses covered during the training process.

Third, there is a money issue. Mr. Pytel told the Vanguard, “If we offered more money, we would get a larger applicant pool, but it remains to be seen whether we can hire some of those. But we would at least compete for the better applicants.”

However, even the money issue is tricky. Part of the problem is that Davis is actually fairly competitive when it comes to total compensation, but lacks on the base salary. Assistant Chief Pytel believes that is a problem for 24-year-old applicants who want to be able to buy a house or a car, but aren’t thinking about their retirement or other benefits yet.

During the budget discussion on Tuesday, the city laid out some of their enhanced recruitment options which includes hiring a police trainee position as a temporary part-time position and a community service officer, and providing tuition reimbursements to help attract potential police officers who are completing their required education.

This would include the addition of $10,000 for tuition reimbursement and $6,000 for Police Academy Tuition expenses. This is offset by $6,000 in reimbursement revenue from the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). So the city would recoup some of that money on the back end.

As Darren Pytel explained, moving forward, they want to expedite the hiring process. Right now there is a three-month pipeline and that ends up losing a lot of potential applicants who find work elsewhere before the department even processes their applications.

The department is looking to cut out the physical agility on the front end since that doesn’t seem to be a hurdle anyway. They will increase their commencement of the first round to every two weeks – determining whether the applicant can pass a background test and then sit down with the assistant chief and a hiring lieutenant to determine whether the applicant can be a good cop in Davis.

One of the points he made earlier is that a lot of the applicants cannot put a sentence together, and that is not going to fly in a community like Davis where they have to be able to speak intelligently to well-educated people.

In the longer term, as we mentioned, they want to change the hiring process to be able to put their own people through the academy. The CSO position, or Community Service Officer, is one approach. They would be getting a bunch of 18- or 19-year-olds to be hired part time, before, as Mr. Pytel put it, “they screw up their background.”

They would be part-time employees and work toward getting at least an Associate’s Degree. Then after a couple of years, the department would put them through the academy.

In addition to helping to create their own pipeline, the department would have a better chance of attracting minority candidates.

The disadvantage right now that Davis has is that the big departments like Sacramento or Oakland have the ability to find good candidates, put them through the academy and actually get them some salary and benefits while they are doing it.

Davis gets stuck with what few candidates remain. People who put themselves through the academy have to be able to survive not working for 30 weeks. By creating the CSO program, the city would pay only $13,000 or $14,000 a year to people working 20-hour weeks. They would get about $20,000 to $25,000 to go through the academy and the tuition is reimbursed to the city by POST. The department would also supply equipment, which is not a huge cost.

In short, Darren Pytel hopes this program can help attract people who might otherwise not be able to apply for a position with the city of Davis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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13 thoughts on “Police Department Looks to Change Recruitment Strategy”

  1. ryankelly

    UC Davis Police running a police cadet academy to develop officers for its department.  See http://police.ucdavis.edu/divisions_services/outreach/cadet_academy.html

    I don’t see why the City of Davis couldn’t collaborate with what the campus is doing and recruit future officers from this pool.  If money is an issue, I fully support providing money for tuition reimbursement and scholarships/stipends for these cadets to develop officers who know the Davis and have a connection to the University and community.



  2. TrueBlueDevil

    Look at how the police officers in Baltimore were dragged over the coals, and look now at the spike in crime in Baltimore. These events have an effect.

    There have also been three white officers killed in the line of duty in one week. Current officers can’t be happy with the meddling and their hands being tied by the DOJ.

    Given the circus put on by Eric Holder, Valerie Jarrett and Al Sharpton, I don’t see those attitudes improving for a while.

      1. Frankly

        This is absolutely a valid point, because the national political and media attacks on law enforcement damages the brand and makes it harder to attract good people to the job.

        Just consider a similar impact for the same attention to teachers being branded as racist for their crappy outcomes educating blacks.

        Think about a child dreaming of a career in teaching of law enforcement seeing the news media reports and listening to adults and other children denigrate the profession.

        wdf1 routinely chastises me for my criticism of teaching as being part of the reason we cannot attract better candidates to the job.  His remedy is to pay even more respect to teachers as a way to attract better candidates.

        TBD is absolutely on track here.  The political left and left media is going after law enforcement as a smoke screen for their failed liberal policies.  http://www.davisenterprise.com/forum/opinion-columns/family-failure-the-root-of-our-urban-crisis-2/

        1. Davis Progressive

          the problem that you seem to be missing is that this problem existed long before the current media narrative if it has been impacting recruiting efforts.

        1. Barack Palin

          Baltimore has 35 murders so far this month for the highest crime spike in 15 years.  Good job mayor and DA for the city of Baltimore and good job to the DOJ for stepping in and making officers afraid to do their job.

          1. Don Shor

            [moderator] Al Sharpton is off topic on this thread.
            Baltimore policing is off topic on this thread.
            National politics are off topic on this thread.
            This thread is about the Davis police force and the change in recruiting strategy.
            Any further discussion of national politics will be removed without notice.

  3. PhilColeman

    The CSO slots have historically been very good recruitment sources for future Davis officers.  Some of our finest officers started here. They enter the police culture in a part-time, capacity performing tasks that free up time otherwise consumed by full-time professionals. Many times, CSO’s take the position just because it’s a job, with no real intent in becoming a law enforcement. Soon, however, at least some CSO’s develop an increasing desire to advance to the status of a full-time career officer. Similarly, police officers and supervisors note CSO’s who are exceptional, and encourage and mentor them to consider law enforcement as a career.

    Not mentioned, is the career path found with the Police Explorer Program, which is a not so subtle career path, at an earlier age. Both these programs could possible benefit from a little bigger “push.”

    Darren’s excellent point about the 3-month delay (that’s a modest time line) in processing of candidates, and its consequences, needs to be put in ALL CAPS. Candidates will apply to as many as a half-dozen or more agencies simultaneously. Other departments have developed the ability to “fast-track” the keepers and rush to offer a job to the star candidates.  Few persons in need of a job now are going to wait for Davis to casually finish their processing. If we were to throw some money at any facet of the process to get good police officer candidates, nothing would increase the success factor as much as reducing the process to, say, one month. It can be done. All it takes is the will and some bucks. In the long-run the cost conceivably would be recovered with fewer recruitment campaigns and getting a better brand of career police officer.

    Now, to the vitally important matter of hiring qualified candidates, putting them on the payroll, and then sending them to the Academy. The big departments do this, the little departments cannot because of budget constraints. Little departments require the candidates to have their POST certificate in hand as a pre-condition to application. By the way, there is a unintentional ethnic discrimination action found in this procedure. To state the obvious, minority candidates are typically economically disadvantaged. We can’t sponsor anybody to go to a police academy. Minority candidates typically can’t buy their own POST ticket. Ergo, qualified minority police candidates don’t come here.

    I’ll just mention a realistic and viable solution to this particular recruitment dilemma for DPD. If anybody likes it, take it as your own idea and take the credit if it works.

    Create a “Police Officer Scholarship Program” placed under the control of the Davis Police Department. Encourage local businesses, private enterprises, service clubs looking for a community need, anybody, to donate to this fund for the betterment of public safety in our fantastic community. With the resultant money in hand. police recruiters can aggressively recruit prime candidates, hire them in as California Peace Officers, and then send them to a regional POST academy.


    1. Frankly

      Awesome post Phil Coleman.

      I am 100% in favor of taking some of the tax revenue surplus to invest in some or all of this.  My company would donate to this “Police Officer Scholarship Program”, as long as it is only means-tested and not race/gender/sexual-orientation-tested.

      Related question… do firefighters require certificate in hand to qualify for a job with Davis?

      1. PhilColeman

        Little out of my area of experience, but firefighters must receive some level of formal certified training to be a fully accredited fire fighter. The California Division of Forestry is presently in the news for its administration of the fire accreditation program. So, there must be some kind formal training required. I don’t know if the training certificate is a precondition to a job application in Davis.

        Whether any of the fire fighter training costs are reimbursed by the State, I have no idea.

  4. Davis Progressive

    i think it’s important that the dpd is starting to be very picky about who they hire.  that wasn’t always the case and you ended up with a number of ill-fitting officers.  there was a whole slew of them, people like fehr and lee benson come to mind who ended up terminated.  hopefully the next round of recruits fares better.

    1. Frankly

      Having a lot of experience as a hiring manager, and some understanding of the personality traits of a person attracted to the job of law enforcement, I see a gap in what you want and what is.

      Today I was thinking of the times I had employees claiming hostile work environment over abusive customer interactions.  That is always a difficult situation.  On the one hand the employee should have a right to feel safe at work, and not be subject to abuse and hostility.  But, on the other hand, as a “customer-comes-first” trained manager, there isn’t really an easy way to “fire” a client without negative business repercussions.

      I was just thinking about this relative to the job of a cop.

      Many of the people that jump on the criticize cop bandwagon are themselves snowflakes that would melt over a tiny percentage of the “customer “abuse that a cop has to deal with.  I have heard some of these people make a case that cops should have to endure any and all things said to them without responding… while in the same breath demanding we crucify some white male because he looked cross-eyed at someone else of a protected victims group.

      If cops are not entitled to the same protection from hostile work environment, then cops’ performance expectations should not be drawn through the same filter as those that do get this protection.

      And more to my original point, finding the type of people that can and do want to do this job where they are subject to this routine abuse and risk, is not just like hiring a professor or attorney.   Much more of the vetting for good cop needs to focus on personality and behavior traits.

      You might dream of that professor, counselor type doing the job, but there are few with these credentials that would even consider doing the job.

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