Police departments struggling to hire officers? Not in Orlando

OPD committed to diversity, raising pay for academy recruits

ORLANDO, Fla. – When Orlando police Chief Eric Smith took over last year, he inherited a hiring problem: there were a hundred openings and good officers were tough to come by.

But Smith largely solved that problem with some creativity and a commitment to diversity.

The Orlando Police Department’s latest recruiting video on LinkedIn specifically targets candidates in cold climates, trying to lure them to the Sunshine State, specifically to the City Beautiful.

Sgt. Yong Hall, in charge of recruiting at OPD, said that’s entirely intentional.

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“We’ve been sending a lot of the media blasts to up North where it’s very cold,” Hall said. “They’re shoveling snow while we’re shoveling sunshine.”

Hall is helping Smith solve a problem that the previous Orlando police Chief, Orlando Rolón, struggled with for years.

Departments across the country are trying to hire qualified cadets from a shrinking pool of people wanting to become police officers.

“I think our application pool has risen in the past six months,” Hall said. “I definitely see a high influx of people wanting to be in this profession again. It’s like a roller coaster. When we have an incident like COVID and protests, it’s fresh in everyone’s heads. It kind of tends to push people away from this particular career. But over time people learn and remember the good so they come back.”

Smith has made recruiting a priority.

“If your officers have a positive outlook on their job every day, they’re going to tell people about it,” Smith said. “If officers don’t like their job, they’re going to tell people about that.”

There are currently around 30 openings at the Orlando Police Department, down from 100 only six months.

“It’s hard to take credit when you’ve only been here a little while but I know that there’s been a change in focus of the department,” Smith said. “I think a lot of our officers like it and enjoy it. And they’re trying to work hard and reduce crime. And that’s what we’re doing here.”

The OPD recruiting team travels to college campuses, criminal justice classes and even military bases around the country to find the best candidates, especially the best women.

Cpl. Casey Gennett said women flock to her during her recruiting presentations.

“Yes, we are targeting women,” Gennett said. “Chief Smith would like to get 30% of our workforce (to be) women by 2030 so we’re working on that. Of the 75-ish that we hired since he became chief, about 20% are women, so we’re on the way. Making great strides toward that.”

Every recruit hired by OPD is sponsored, meaning the police department pays for recruits to go through the academy and guarantees a job.

The recruiters said they insisted upon Smith raising pay for recruits in the academy and he listened.

Academy pay jumped from $18 to $25 per hour, the highest in Central Florida.

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.