Police seeking younger recruits

By Eric Butler: PNT Staff Writer

It’s no secret that the Portales Police Department, like many city police departments, struggles with the recruitment and retention of new officers. One possible solution in Portales is likely to be implemented in the next couple of weeks.

“We’re doing the job descriptions right now, just getting started on it,” said Portales Police Deputy Chief Lonnie Berry of the new police service aids program.

The idea, according to Berry, is to give those interested in becoming police officers a chance to learn some of the ins and outs of the department at a younger age.

“We’re using it as a recruitment tool for those who might be interested in law enforcement and are at a younger age than what we typically look for,” Berry said. “We usually hold out for someone at least 20 or 21 years old when we hire them.”

Sergeant David Meeks, 30, was 22 when he started with the Portales Police Department. Prior to serving with the city, Meeks got experience working as a campus officer at Eastern New Mexico University.

He thinks the new program, in which younger trainees won’t be able to carry a gun, will be similar to his days at ENMU — which he feels were beneficial when it came time to be hired as a city police officer.

“I think it’s a good idea. This will act as sort of a stepping stone,” Meeks said. “They’ll get to know Portales PD and how things function. It just helps out with the transition, and it’ll basically better prepare them for actual law enforcement.”

Berry said other departments in the state, Roswell and Artesia City Police for instance, already have police service aid programs in place.

In Portales, the duties for those accepted as police service aids will include taking fingerprints, traffic escorts, traffic control at intersections, minor traffic accidents and taking reports.

The younger officers, however, would not have arrest powers.

Applicants for the part-time paid positions must have finished high school and hold a drivers license.

“Hopefully, it’ll be a good program for them to become police recruits,” said Berry, who wants recruits to be in the police service aid program for at least a year before getting the chance to move up. “If someone’s in college and taking classes, it would be an ideal program for them.”

The administrators at the Portales Police Department are looking for long-term stability in their police force, and that’s another reason for the program.

“We didn’t want to just hire people that go from agency to agency. We’d like to get people who are interested in being a part of this community,” Berry said. “People who want to work here and want to be here.”