The Abilene Police Department expects more retirements in the coming months and is recruiting new officers to keep the police force at its authorized level.
At one point, more than 50 officers were qualified to retire immediately because of their long history with the department, according to Police Chief Stan Standridge. Despite the large number, Standridge said he believes he will only see one retirement per month, or every other month, on average.
Officers who join now will not be fully functioning members of the police force for another two years. Standridge said they have to work ahead and recruit now.
"I suspect our community is going to say 'wow they're hiring again?' Yes. Because a lot of the people with 30 plus years of experience are now opting to retire. And we wish them well but we're trying to be strategic to make sure that our staffing stays at about the authorized level," Standridge said.
The authorized level for APD is 189 sworn officers. Standridge said the department is at that level now, but they must recruit to keep it that way.
"We anticipate within the next year and a half to two years, we will be as many as 12 to 15 officers short," Standridge said. "We have to think today in terms of two years from now."
The four-month long recruiting process is not for the fainthearted. Recruits have to pass physical agility tests, psychological and medical evaluations, drug screenings, extensive background investigations and oral board interviews.
"What do they have to look forward to? A lifetime of service and that's what we pride ourselves in: We serve those we protect," Standridge said.
Lieutenant Keith Shackelford has served 18 years with APD. He recalled one troubling day in training when he and other officers arrested a father in front of his children for domestic violence.
"I felt a tug on my leg and it was one of the little girls and she grabbed onto my leg and I was like 'baby are you OK?' And she said 'thank you, we knew once you got here it would be OK.' That was the first moment, of many after that, that told me this is where you're supposed to be."
Police administrators want to identify at least 15 qualified applicants to start Academy 51 in June 2013.