ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – The Roanoke County Police Department is dealing with the worst staffing issues it’s ever had.
The job certainly comes with its fair share of challenges, but this year, the department is facing more challenges than ever.
“Most of the people that were hired around the same time as me, a lot of them have left. A lot of people that were hired after me have left,” said officer Victoria Schmitt.
17 people have left the department so far this year. That’s more than all of last year.
Recruitment and retention are ongoing struggles, but this year is different.
“I think a lot of times we’re discouraged with the negativity in the current climate and the way that law enforcement is portrayed,” Schmitt said. “I’ve always wanted to do something that I can help the community and make a difference.”
Chief Howard Hall told 10 News that unrest on top of retirements and the pandemic is a perfect storm for the worst staffing issues he’s ever seen.
“There’s all these calls for quality policing and doing things the right way, well that’s all about the people so you’ve got to have the right people in these jobs to start with,” Hall said.
Only 3 officers graduated from the last academy. Only 5 are in the current academy. The number of applicants plummeted from 519 in 2016 to 177 so far this year. The portion of applicants who actually made it to testing in 2016 was 53%, but it’s just 15% this year.
Filling a position vacated today wouldn’t put an officer in the field until Oct. 2021.
Being shorthanded means officers are working overtime, with some being moved from other assignments back to patrol and cutting back on how they can help citizens.
Hall said patrol and criminal investigations are the priority, but services like community engagement, animal control, complaints or anything that’s not an imminent threat could suffer.
“We are going to put our resources where they’re needed to keep everybody in this valley safe,” Hall said.
The Roanoke County Police Department is holding a Diversity in Law Enforcement Recruiting event on Aug. 25. It’s happening at 6 p.m. at the Roanoke County Criminal Justice Academy, located at 5401 Barnes Ave. Officers will be present to answer questions and talk about starting a career in law enforcement.