Mesa is bolstering its police force for the first time since the recession forced the law enforcement agency to downsize in 2008.
Nineteen new officers will graduate from the Mesa Police Academy on Friday, the first new class since budget cuts caused the police department to halt its own training program in four years ago.
While the city has increased its budget to grow the department by just five officers, the change represents the first step in restoring some of the 83 positions that were cut in recent years.
Mesa has 760 sworn officers today but the budget to employ 782, said Cmdr. Mike Soelberg, who oversees training.
Nearly every position will now be filled with officers fresh out of the academy and transfers from other law enforcement agencies.
Mesa had the budget for 860 officers four years ago. That had dropped to as low as 777. The reductions came by eliminating positions as police left the force, not through layoffs.
Mesa expects to hire about 60 more officers in the next year to replace personnel who retire, resign or are terminated. That’s a significantly higher number of new officers to the department than in recent years because employees delayed retirement as the economy slumped.
Since 2009, Mesa has hired a relatively small number of police by hiring from other agencies or enrolling recruits in Phoenix’s academy.
The department is focusing on recruiting former military personnel because they have related training and understand a police force’s paramilitary culture, Soelberg said.
“They do well in the academy and they do well in the streets,” he said.
Also, the department is encouraging lateral transfers from other agencies. Those hires don’t have to go through the academy, so they can be on the street in about 22 weeks rather than about 9 months for new recruits.
The additional officers will help free up personnel for Mesa’s annual summer tactical enforcement initiative that targets high-crime areas, Sgt. Tony Landato said. The effort involves forming a roughly 20-person team from top performers in the patrol division, and having them zero on areas with high levels of nuisance calls, gunfire, gang activity or other crime.
The detail goes from mid-June to mid-August.
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