APD struggles to find qualified candidates for open positions

Isaiah Senyak, right, is an APD Officer Trainee (Courtesy: WLOS Photo)

The Asheville Police Department (APD) was never fully staffed in 2016, and it hired only 6.4 percent of its applicants.

Officers from several departments say, right now, qualified candidates are looking for the best benefits and pay when choosing a department.

APD has 20 sworn officer vacancies right now, with 15 trainees set to fill most of the vacancies when they graduate from Basic Law Enforcement Training.

Isaiah Senyak is one of those trainees. He looks forward to becoming an Asheville police officer. News 13 watched a training exercise where he responded to a disturbance call. In the scenario two friends got into an argument, and one wouldn't leave the other's house. The trainers say this is a common call.

Senyak is a former middle school teacher, and he believes he can better address people's needs as an officer.

"I want to focus on de-escalation and, you know, generally being proactive in policing and being sure the community is safe to begin with," Senyak said. "And then you don't have to retroactively go back and try to solve those problems."

The department said it wants problem solvers and those problem solvers have to be willing to work a 12-hour shift and receive about $36,000 a year.

"The ones that come in wanting to give back to the community tend to a better job and tend to last longer. The ones who tend to come in with just the sheer adrenaline coming in and they want to solve every crime? They tend to jump from call-to-call. They burn out quick," Capt. Gary Gudac, who oversees Asheville Police Department's recruitment.

Gudac believes the number of applicants depends on the country's economy. When it's doing poorly, he says more people apply for government jobs. Now that it's doing better, Gudac said it can be harder to find qualified people.

"This year, our numbers are not as strong," Gudac said about applications.

He hopes that's not a trend.

"We still want to make sure that the people that are coming are coming for the right reasons. We want to make sure that the applicants we're getting are good and solid. I would rather have 10 applications come in and eight people of them be solid applicants than have 500 come in and only eight of them be solid applicants," Gudac said.

In 2016, 560 people applied to be an Asheville police officer, and 36 were hired. APD said positions come open throughout the year, but the department never filled all of its vacancies.

Officers from several departments said finding the right people is a national problem. After five Dallas police officers were killed in the line of duty, the police chief pleaded for help.

"We're hiring. We're hiring," then Dallas Police Chief David Brown said.

RELATED | In wake of Dallas shootings, local police are 'very much aware' of daily dangers

The head of Buncombe County's Basic Law Enforcement Training Daryl Fisher said other headlines have made it harder for agencies to recruit.

"If you're a person that gets angry very easy, obviously based on the things we've seen across our nation, then that's not the person we need for the job," Fisher said.

Asheville Police Department is working to fill openings and has been working to recruit candidates from surrounding states and the region. Click here if you'd like to learn more about the job openings.

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