During the past year, public safety officials across the United States have been fighting COVID-19, mass shootings and turmoil, many times a result of public safety officers’ misconduct.
A closely related issue that has not received much publicity is the growing difficulty in recruiting and hiring public safety employees. It is also important to note that it is difficult to recruit minority candidates.
The purpose of this op-ed is to highlight the need for able-bodied Americans to become part of public safety. So, as West Virginia’s Cabinet secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, I ask that you join other public safety officers to defend and protect our Constitution, especially human rights, our communities and our countless freedoms by becoming a West Virginia public safety officer.
The great state of West Virginia does not look at the color of your skin when hiring. We look at hiring competent, intelligent and dedicated persons that desire to, and will, serve the citizens of West Virginia with honor, integrity and respect every day.
Should you consider a career in public safety? You should if you answer yes to these questions:
— Are you compassionate?
— Are you a people person?
— Do you have good communication skills?
— Can you remain calm in difficult situations?
— Do you enjoy serving others?
Since at least 1981, the United States has seen a reduction in men and women applying for public safety positions. The problem of recruitment and retention of public safety departments across the United States is well-documented.
Many public safety departments have difficulty identifying, hiring and retaining qualified candidates. You have probably seen multiple news stories about the critical shortage of personnel in professions like nursing and teaching, but probably not so much about the shortage of public safety officers.
A study by the North Carolina Criminal Justice Analysis Center showed the attrition rate for police officers (14%) is higher than that of both nursing (12%) and teaching (13%).
According to Data USA, in 2019 there were 812,000 police officers in the United States, and 12.4% were Black.
According to the National Institute of Corrections, there are approximately 454,500 correctional officers in the United States. According to Data USA, 23.8% of correctional officers and bailiffs are Black.
West Virginia has these same issues hiring public safety officers. For example, the Charleston Police Department is now offering a $5,000 signing bonus. The West Virginia State Police in years past had hundreds of candidates applying for openings; in the past 10 years, those numbers have dwindled.
Making things even more difficult is minority hiring in West Virginia. Example: Out of 640 state troopers, fewer than 20 are minorities.
In West Virginia, as of October 2020, the Department of Homeland Security employed 1,936 correctional officers; only 121 are minorities.
As President John F. Kennedy stated in his inaugural address “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” As former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated, “There’s no greater challenge and there is no greater honor than to be in public service.”
As a person that has been in public service over 40 years, I echo these historical statements.
I encourage the readers of this op-ed to spread the word of the need for West Virginians to make public safety a career in our state, as well as consider for themselves the rewarding career of public safety in West Virginia.
Please direct yourself and others to the Department of Homeland Security website to learn more about joining the West Virginia State Police or the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation: https://dhs.wv.gov/Pages/contact_us.aspx.
Currently, Corrections has the following openings for correctional officers:
Juvenile facilities — 61
Jail facilities — 165
Prison facilities — 157
Total — 395
Great things are happening in the Department of Homeland Security: Be part of the TEAM!