The Arlington Heights Police Department will be fully staffed in 2013 after years of unfilled vacancies kept the force below its authorized level of sworn officers.
The department is hiring five new police officers, which will bring the staff back up to its authorized level of 109 officers after years of budget cutting, said Captain Nick Pecora.
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"In 2008 when the economy took a downturn we realized we had to cut staff to meet budgetary obligations so we started not filling vacancies," Pecora said. "Now we've reached a stable revenue stream this year and we've been told it was OK to start filling those spots."
As long as the economy was in flux over the past few years, Pecora said the department didn't want to hire officers and have to fire them a few months later, so they made do with less.
"Street strength was always our number one priority. Our response times never varied," Pecora said, adding that officers were moved around to fill patrol vacancies while the department was understaffed.
In 2005 the village had 114 sworn officers. The village later changed the authorized force number to 109, but with retirements and unfilled vacancies, the department was down to 104 officers.
About 200 candidates took the entry-level police test in January 2012, Pecora said. They had to take a written test, a physical exam, and have an interview with the police and fire commission in order to be eligible for hiring.
Hired officers go to the police academy for 10 weeks, followed by 15 weeks of field training with the Arlington Heights department.
So far three officers have been hired. One just finished the police academy at College of DuPage and another will finish there later this fall.
The third officer is being hired from the Burr Ridge Police Department and will not have to go to the academy, Pecora said.
Pecora said the department is doing background checks on a few candidates to fill the last two spots.
"We entrust these people to protect the community so we want to make sure we are getting the most qualified candidate, and sometimes that takes a lot of time," he added.
All five officers will be on the street by early 2013, Pecora said.
Pecora said there has never been an interruption of services, but other officers had to work overtime or take less vacation time. So, the new hires will help the whole force, and could actually save money, he added.
"Even if you aren't paying a salary to someone you're still paying the overtime to someone else," he said.
Because the hires come from within the department's allocated budget, the village board did not have to approve the decision.
"We had every department just cut, cut, cut wherever possible," said Village President Arlene Mulder. "We're still being very cautious, but we want to make certain that we are providing the public safety that people expect."