A career in law enforcement is challenging and like the firefighting profession, presents opportunities to help your neighbors in ways that are reserved for only the best and brightest individuals in the community.

If you are someone who likes to solve complicated puzzles, are curious concerning how and why an event occurred, an interested questioner and listener, and can put facts into a narrative form that others can comprehend, then you are a potential candidate for the position of police officer.

A study by the Rand Corporation a few years ago determined that the ideal police officer candidate lives within 60 miles of the jurisdiction that is hiring and has either two years of college education or four years of honorable military service.

But these attributes alone won’t get you the job. There are background checks, a preliminary written test, a physical examination and an oral interview before you’re hired.

Then there is the police academy, usually six months long, that tests your ability to understand and apply tens-of-thousands of laws to everyday situations, your physical agility to “leap tall buildings in a single bound” and your report writing skills.

After successful completion of the “academy” you’ll be assigned to a training officer and, just like the military, you’ll have to learn the essentials of policing from a seasoned expert before you are allowed to patrol on your own.

Another challenging position is that of a public safety dispatcher. To do this job you must possess the ability understand sometimes-panicked people reporting what they see as a catastrophic event, to process that information quickly, determine what the problem is, where it is occurring, and then send the appropriate resources to deal with the situation.

You must also be able to multi-task, focusing on the radio traffic of responding units while answering other emergency calls. Things can happen quickly when units arrive on-scene, and you must be able to react quickly and accurately to their requests.

In the dispatch center things can go from total boredom to total chaos in a matter of seconds, and the dispatcher must be able to handle the situation calmly.

Recently in Lompoc there were six vacancies in the dispatch center; of the 194 applicants, 110 failed the screening process and only 22 reached the final stage of the selection process. Six were ultimately hired.

There were 11 police officer vacancies at the end of 2019; the LPD actively recruited “lateral candidates” or individuals who had either completed the police officer academy or had two years’ experience in another department and could be put to work with minimal in-field training. Of the 59 applicants, 32 failed the screening process and only 1 was eventually hired.

The next category was police officer trainee/academy enrollee. These folks must complete the six-month academy, then receive a lengthy in-field training period before they are qualified work alone. Of the 263 people who applied, only five were eventually hired.

Finding qualified candidates is difficult. Some of the reasons potential candidates fail the initial background investigation concern a bad credit history and/or drug use which includes cannabis. Of course, the Lompoc City Council embraces the sale and use of cannabis in the city, which may be impacting the future job prospects of not only police officer candidates but other occupations as well.

Even though the Lompoc Police Department is on a path to filling all authorized police officer positions, retention is still a challenge. During a council briefing on March 3, the police chief said even though he was working hard to achieve full employment, two officers had recently notified the department that they were leaving the city.

The city of Lompoc pay scales for these positions are lower than surrounding jurisdictions, which is why so many officers leave and go elsewhere.

So, keeping a full complement of officers is a continuing challenge for Lompoc; many other cities have similar issues. Being a police officer or public safety dispatcher is both challenging and rewarding, however when you possess the skills and experience needed to be a successful police officer, why wouldn’t you try to earn the most money for your efforts?

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committees since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at news@noozhawk.com. Click here to read his previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.