St. Pete PD works to fill gap in officer shortage

- The St. Petersburg Police Department swore in another 18 police cadets Friday, all of whom completed about six months of academy training and now face another few months of field training. 

They represent the latest step to reverse a decades-old manpower shortage at the department. 

The city's budget provides for 562 sworn law enforcement officers.

Assistant Chief Michael Kovacsev told FOX 13 News, "hopefully we're going to meet that 562, rather than keep chasing that number. Because we've been chasing that number for the 22 years that I've been here."

PBA president George Lofton pinpointed the low point for the agency in the 2006-2007 time frame, under the administration of former Mayor Rick Baker. 

"We were working for a mayor that we all felt thought, 'we're a necessary evil,' That's how we're looked at," Lofton said. "You've got to have us, but there's really not a lot of love there." 

The department lost more than 100 officers a year, several years in a row. Since then, St. Petersburg has had two new mayors and more recently, a new police chief. 

"It's getting better," Lofton said. "I mean, absolutely, in the last year and a half, things are ten-fold better."

Starting pay for a cadet is nearly $40,000 a year, and once on the street, $46,700.

"One thing that's changed dramatically over the last couple of years is the fact that we're having so many pre-certified officers come to our agency from surrounding agencies," Kovacsev said. "For years, we were a training ground that we would lose officers to other agencies and we were constantly trying to hire. We've reversed that trend."

Now the challenge is to replace retiring officers, recruited en masse in the early 1990s. Roughly 20-percent of the agency's officers could retire right now, if they wished.

However, their departures creates opportunities for advancement by younger officers, which can be used as a tool to recruit the future of the force.

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