AMERICAN FORK, Utah (ABC4) – Right now finding new police recruits in Utah is harder to come by. Some agencies in the state are seeing a huge drop in new applicants compared to years before, and it’s forcing at least one agency to change how they handle the streets, in this edition of Behind the Badge.
In the last two years, ABC4 News has reported the high number of police job openings at different agencies in Utah, but it’s not just a problem limited to our state. In places like American Fork, it’s putting officers in positions you don’t normally see.
Hiring new police officers in Utah, like American Fork trainee Steven Hawkins, isn’t as easy as it used to be.
“It used to be all you had to do was post you had an opening, and the applications would flood in,” said Lt. Josh Christensen, American Fork Police Dept.
American Fork police said nearly 20 years ago, for one new position like Officer Hawkins’, they’d get around 150 applicants, but now a new opening draws less than 10.
“We don’t tend to have a big problem with retention, but when we do have an opening it’s just more difficult to fill,” said Christensen.
Lt. Christensen believes things like Covid-19, the riots in 2020, changes to police retirement or better money with other jobs have changed attitudes traditionally favorable for police. Not as many people want to become police officers now or stay one as long.
“It’s caused many departments to just be a lot younger than we used to,” he said.
For American Fork, that means the officers’ training new hires are practically new themselves.
Patrol Officer Tanner Kahl got hired in 2020 and started training other officers a year and a half later.
“It was a little overwhelming at first, just because I was like why me? I’m a year and a half in roughly, two years in. I’m still fairly young,” said Officer Tanner Kahl, American Fork Police Dept.
As challenging as it’s been, Kahl said it also helped him improve.
“Teaching new people, it made me realize I’m a lot better at this job than I give myself credit for,” said Kahl.
One of the reasons both Kahl and Hawkins chose American Fork was the genuine comradery they feel at the station.
“Not only was the chief great, but even the lieutenants and patrol men when I did my ride-alongs they were genuine to me, caring,” said Officer Steven Hawkins, American Fork Police Dept.
“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else now honestly… I don’t plan on ever leaving American Fork because I love it so much,” said Kahl.
While police in American Fork may not get the same number of applicants in the past, they believe the future is bright for the officers they do find.
To find some of these officers, American Fork is advertising for it, like recruiting cadets at the state police academy, not something they’ve typically had to do.
If you’d like to become an officer, you don’t have to wait for them to reach out. You can contact agencies like American Fork online. We’ve included this link to the American Fork Police Department’s website.