DuPage sheriff: Hiring challenges persist for law enforcement

The DuPage sheriff's office has 12 job openings for sworn deputies, but a police hiring crunch has left the department struggling to fill vacancies.

Competition for new hires is so intense that area departments are dangling lucrative incentives to shore up their ranks. Aurora has offered a $20,000 signing bonus to lure officers with at least two years of experience to the city's police force, a practice known as lateral hiring.

"This is a stress and pressure every police agency is feeling right now," DuPage Sheriff James Mendrick said. "We're poaching from each other. Everybody's opened up laterals."

As he proposes a $51.8 million department budget for the coming fiscal year, Mendrick expects those hiring challenges to persist amid rising calls for service.

The department currently has 389 deputies, though it's authorized by the county to have 12 more.

The vacancies largely stem from retirements and difficulties hiring recruits, sheriff's officials say.

"We have people who are retiring who can't collect pensions yet just because they want to get out of the job," Mendrick told county board members Tuesday. "So it's frustrating for us in finding new talents in a very competitive market now."

Law enforcement training academies that were shut down for COVID-related reasons have reopened, but now, the "waiting lists are huge," Mendrick said.

"That's why laterals have become so important because that's a way to get somebody in without having to go through the academy," he said.

DuPage's top cop said the department has been making most of its lateral hires from agencies in Cook County.

"Police officers in Chicago are not happy with the leadership, and they don't feel they have support from the mayor, and they're leaving," said county board member Pete DiCianni, an Elmhurst Republican. "So I say we do whatever we need to do to attract those folks."

To help level the playing field, officials have floated the idea of a signing bonus, but no formal proposal has been made.

Mendrick is seeking to raise the department's annual spending by roughly $4 million to $51,816,442 for fiscal 2022.

Sheriff's officials have attributed the request for additional funding to salary increases due to collective bargaining agreements; technology cost increases; mandates related to a criminal justice reform bill signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this year; and the continuation of programs and services.

Under the reform bill, every department in the state is required to equip its officers with body-worn cameras.

To comply with the law, the DuPage sheriff's budget plan in its current form sets aside $144,600 for personnel, $46,400 for contractual costs and $464,400 for capital expenses. Head count, for instance, was increased by one sergeant and an administrative staff member to oversee the body camera program.

Mendrick's budget request also calls for $400,000 for the nonprofit group JUST of DuPage to provide vocational training, addiction treatment and other services for inmates as part of a rehabilitation program in the county jail.

County Board Chairman Dan Cronin is scheduled to outline his budget proposal on Sept. 28.

County board members have until the end of November to review the proposed budget, make revisions and approve it. The fiscal year starts on Dec. 1.

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