Ask any police chief the hardest part of their job, and the answer you’ll likely hear is “staffing.”
It has always been challenging to find and train men and women with the right temperament, intellect, and physical and emotional strength to be a police officer. The job is inherently dangerous on a daily basis and has increasingly become so in recent years. No community, no matter how small or rural, is immune to the risks of deadly conflict.
So while police chiefs face all those hiring challenges, layer in the critical need to increase diversity within their ranks. Most police forces are at troubling deficits of Black officers, Latino officers, Asian officers — and female officers across the board.
The reality is that there are strikingly few candidates in law enforcement basic training programs who can help fill these needs. And the few who do enroll can frequently choose from multiple offers with better pay and benefits than smaller forces can offer.
All of which makes it remarkable that Southern Pines Police Chief Nick Polidori recently added two officers who bring needed diversity to the department’s ranks. Maricruz Guerrero and Cortrell Woodard are fulfilling childhood dreams by putting on the badge. And their presence signals that Southern Pines won’t settle for common excuses.
Shoes to Fill
“If you want to talk about change, about being a part of the process, about making an impact, this is it,” said Woodard, 24, who, like Guerrero, was sworn in as a Southern Pines officer in June. “I wanted to be someone with input on what a patrolman should do. If you want to make a difference, you need to put yourself in those shoes.”
But just putting yourself in those shoes isn’t enough. A department also has to be plugged in and know of candidates either in training or — these days — even thinking of going into this line of work. In that respect, department personnel are doing double duty by also working as instructors.
That’s Polidori’s strategy. Like many other active duty officers, he serves as a part-time BLET instructor at Central Carolina Community College in Sanford. While his primary purpose is to train new officers, he’s also on the prowl for new staff.
“It is just tough right now,” he says. “Traditionally our workforce is hiring from BLET. But when those numbers are down, as a whole, and you have so many openings for police officers across the board,everyone is vying for the same people.”
A Competitive Strategy
When so many departments are competing for limited recruits, you have to find other ways to compete than just on pay. In that respect, Southern Pines and other local police agencies try to use their edge that all other Moore County employers use: quality of life.
“We have great leadership here. We are very welcoming and there is a family-oriented atmosphere. These are things that set us apart,” Polidori said, also calling attention to the town’s robust training budget. “If you are not training, you are falling behind.”
Indeed, Guerrero says she could have gone to a bigger department — probably for more money — but opted for an environment that gave her more confidence. She said she jumped at the opportunity to join the department when a vacancy came up.
“I wanted to be trained correctly,” Guerrero said, noting that was part of her interest in joining a smaller community-focused agency. “I was worried that if I was thrown into a bigger (city) department, I wouldn’t be trained as I should be.”
It would be easy for smaller police departments like Southern Pines to surrender to economics and recruit shortages and deemphasize workforce diversity. So it’s noteworthy that Polidori and his department recognize the need — and are hiring — for a police force that reflects its community.