Police Departments Losing Officers Due to ‘Lateral’ Hires

MARANA, AZ (Tucson News Now) – It’s been a tough year for police departments all over Southern Arizona. Many agencies have been struggling to keep good officers on staff, as they are lured away to other jurisdictions with the promise of better pay, and opportunities for advancement.

Some local agencies have lost dozens of officers to agencies who are hiring “lateral officers”, which means officers who already have experience. Several of the latest hires at the Marana Police Department were “lateral” hires. Police Chief Terry Rozema explained the benefits.

“The benefit to the agency is you get someone who is already trained, has experience, as opposed to someone who is brand new,” said Rozema. He added that a brand new hire could not be put on the streets to take calls right away. They had to go through 17-weeks in the academy, a couple weeks of post-academy, then 14-weeks of field training.

“By the time you start the training process for a new hire and get them on the street it takes about a year, whereas with a lateral hire it will take you four months from the time you hire them,” said Rozema.

Starting salaries in the area were competitive. We looked into the numbers. The Pima County Sheriff’s office started brand new deputies out at about $43,000 but they also offered a take home car. Something most police agencies don’t do. The Tucson Police Department started officers at a salary of about $46,000. The city website stated a detective in the city made about $64,000. Oro Valley had the highest starting salary in the area, with a starting pay of about $49,000.

In Marana, a brand new officer would take home a paycheck of about $47,000, but Chief Rozema said they were able to offer good raises and chances for promotion in a department that was growing fast.

We spoke to two officers who had been hired “laterally” into the Marana police force.

Detective Erin Ysaguirre had moved from the Flagstaff Police Department to Marana for personal reasons, but she said she chose Marana over other agencies in the area because of the promise of advancement.

“There is a lot of opportunity here. I’ve had numerous opportunities already in the short time I’ve been here. I have been here for four years, the department has provided me training, I’m currently a detective and I started out in patrol,” said Ysagguire.

Officer Chriswell Scott left his job at the Tucson Police Department for Marana for better security, and more opportunities as well.

“Well for a good portion of the five years I was there, there was a constant threat of layoffs and furloughs. That weighed on my mind heavily,” said Scott.

In addition to the dangers of the job and the stress they face out in the field, a heavy call load, and threat of budget cuts weighed heavy on the minds of many officers who were planning to make that move.

“A lot of these officers, they work for PCSO or TPD, it’s just call to call to call to call to call for them. A lot of these calls there is follow up that can be done, but I can’t get to it because there’s too many calls holding on the screen. This job I am expected to follow through and can keep track of the calls I go on,” said Chriswell.”

“I looked at the financial situation here, I looked at the growth, all the houses that are being built in this area,” he added.

Chief Rozema said thanks to a good financial outlook, the town was able to offer their officers good raises.

“The potential for growth here is phenomenal, so people are seeing that and thinking if I can get in on the ground floor, the opportunities in this profession are going to be exponential for us,” said Rozema.

Rozema said he was able to offer opportunities to those who may be were in an organization where they had not been able to get raises for a long time, but Rozema said he always made sure to hire people who were excited about the opportunities and wanted to live in the community, as he was aware other agencies that paid more than he could offer could scoop up his officers as well.

Among the 16 officers hired by the Marana Police Department, Rozema said two of the positions were school resource officers. Rozema said he was excited about that, as they had not been able to fund those positions since 2008, when they were eliminated due to budget cuts.

“In 2008-2009 we started to see an increase in students using drugs, violence in schools, alcohol abuse, and things of that nature,” said Rozema. He said he was able to fund those positions with the help of a grant they had co-applied for with the Marana Unified School District.

The department was also looking forward to moving into a brand new police building, estimated to cost about $18 Million. Rozema said talks were still in the works, but he had a lot of support from the town manager and elected officials. Rozema hoped the building would be a reality within five years.

Right now Marana has 2.1 officers per 1,000 residents. Rozema said with the population expected to grow with new housing developments coming in they would be adding new officers to the force gradually.

Agencies like the Tucson Police Department have been struggling with officer retention. Officials said they city had lost dozens of officers in the last few years to agencies like Marana and Oro Valley. Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor was not available for an interview on Thursday, but in an interview with Tucson News Now a few months ago, Villasenor said he was aware of the issue, he hoped to be able to officer incentives of growth and advancement to Tucson Police Officers, as the department expected to see many officers retire in the next two years. Villasenor said that would create a lot of opportunities for other officers in the department.

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