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Staffing issues create challenges for metro police departments

The Ames Police Department says it's operating roughly 20% under its preferred staff size.

AMES, Iowa — It's no secret staffing shortages and issues have plagued all types of industries since the onset of the pandemic —  and area law enforcement agencies say they're not immune to these challenges. 

"We're currently down about 20% of our staffing," said Commander Daniel Walter with the Ames Police Department. "The hard part for us right now is that maybe 20 years ago, when I started, we might have 250 applicants for maybe one or two positions. And what we're seeing now is that we might have five positions, like we have right now. In this last recruitment, we only had 14 applications for those positions."

This shortage means current officers have more work on their plate.

"There has been an increase in violent crime not only in our city but across the state, across the country," Walter said.

Walter believes this isn't an issue only his department is facing, but one example of a widespread problem.

"The bad news is that we're all trying to hire those same individuals," Walter said. "So, what we have seen across the metro was one agency might be doing the hiring process and they're doing a background on that individual. And that individual has also started that process here in Ames. So we're all kind of competing for the same individuals that might have an interest in serving their community."

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The Des Moines Police Department said it's currently sitting at a comfortable staffing level and has a record number of recruits in the academy. However, the stability of that workforce is less than ideal.  

"You can plan for regular service retirements," said Des Moines Police Sergeant Paul Parizek. "You can't account for injuries and you can't account for folks who just decide to get out of the profession. So predicting how many we need going into the future is kind of difficult."

Regardless of what the future brings, Parizek says more boots on the ground would be a big help for the department.

"Our city has grown significantly over the past few decades, but our authorized strength hasn't," Parizek said. "So, while we're at our authorized strength, it still can be a little bit higher to serve the community the way we want to serve the community."

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