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Area police departments navigate labor market shifts, retention and burnout

'You get into situations where you have rookies training rookies,' Rockport Chief of Police Gregory Stevens said.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Area law enforcement leaders are right in the middle of a problem facing every industry across the country: Getting people to join their ranks. 

"You get into situations where you have rookies training rookies," Rockport Chief of Police Gregory Stevens said. 

These labor market shifts come during a pandemic and under a national microscope after the killing of George Floyd and large scale protests across the country against police brutality. 

According to Corpus Christi Police Department Deputy William Breedlove, it has become more difficult for departments to fill positions. 

"The newer generation, they're more flexible and they have a desire sometimes to try other locations," Breedlove said. "We have officers who maybe put five-to-six years in and they go somewhere else, but we do have the ability to hire them back within our labor contract. And we have successfully hired some of them back."

Breedlove adds that the Corpus Christi area has not directly experienced the impact of the "racial awakening" that has taken place across the country. 

"I think we're very fortunate here in our community to have not really experienced any of that sort of backlash that some of the other departments have," Breedlove said. 

While the pandemic allowed workers in other industries to work remotely, the line of work that law enforcement is called to, prevents such a luxury. 

"I think what we're seeing is that people like the idea of living in a desirable place but being able to work anywhere – from anywhere – we can't do that in police work. It is an in person job," Stevens said. 

The requirement of an in-person profession, coupled with the task of training a small department can put a strain on officers. 

"And we prefer obviously to have seasoned veteran officers train the rookies that come in, to give them that experience that they've based on years and years of experience," Stevens said.

Out in the brush country, staffing challenges intersect with complex real world problems. Urbino "Benny" Martinez who is the Sheriff for Brooks County said that officers have had to adapt to these changes due to having no other choice. 

"All these issues that we are dealing with are not just domestic issues but immigration issues," Martinez said. "There are days where we are fast moving, there are days where our hands get tied up pretty much, but you just deal with those things because that's just part of it."

Martinez added that no matter how long law officials have been wearing the badge, dealing with immigration cases takes a toll on even the most strong willed officers. 

"I had one of my deputies, a new deputy that went out. He's never seen a dead body before, so it impacted him," Martinez said.

All three departments are currently hiring for open positions, and encourage qualified residents to consider joining their ranks.

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