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'Move in the right direction': Arizona law enforcement still struggling with recruitment into 2023

Incentives are reportedly helping close the staffing shortage gap for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

PHOENIX — It's a new year, but law enforcement agencies are still facing the same problem when it comes to getting new hires.

Staffing shortages started happening during the pandemic in 2020. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is also struggling for new recruits. 

"It's probably still below what we used to see pre-pandemic," said MCSO's Chief Human Resources Officer Andrew Mesquita. "The numbers are starting to move in the right direction."

MCSO currently has 84 deputy sheriff positions open which Mesquita said is about a 23% vacancy rate. Some of those positions will be taken up by those currently going through the training academy to become a deputy, but MCSO is working to make sure they stay.

"We've implemented sign-on incentives," Mesquita said. 

That includes a $10,000 retention bonus for those who were employed with the sheriff's office before May 1 of last year. There are also bonuses for those who join, a newly created mental health division to help staff, and paid parental leave of up to six weeks.

"We're hopeful that with that momentum and some of our other hiring efforts will start to chip away at that vacancy rate," Mesquita said.

Over the summer, the Phoenix City Council increased the salary for new police recruits by $20,000, which made the Phoenix Police Department the highest-paid department for officers in Arizona. At that time, the department was still short 501 officers on staff. 

"It is getting better, but we're still a long way from where we need to be," said Andy Anderson, a retired assistant Phoenix police chief. 

While these incentives are allegedly helping, Anderson recognizes there is more Arizona departments can do, like bringing in mental health specialists to respond to calls.

"[Officers] ought to be able to pass it off to somebody who can give them the resources they need, and help them work through that situation, because law enforcement is not equipped to handle that," Anderson said.

When asked how long this staffing shortage will continue, Anderson said there really is no simple answer. 

"It's very challenging to get caught up," Anderson said. "We may be a few years down the road, if even then."

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