FARGO — With 34 filled positions in the Fargo Police Department not patrolling the streets of Fargo, Police Chief David Todd recognizes how atypical the situation is.
"It's not typical," said Fargo Police Chief David Todd.
Half are in training. The other half are on military or family leave. The department is allowed to have 181 sworn positions.
"We have a very young department, so officers are having kids," said Todd.
It has forced the chief to get creative.
"We do things such as have detectives fill in for a day each month, they work a day on patrol. The administrative division, the officers there — recruiting, hiring, training — they are coming in and filling shifts on patrol," Todd said.
With crime on the increase as the city continues to grow, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney has proposed adding seven new officers, which Todd said would be sufficient. The department has already grown quite a bit in recent years. In 2013, Fargo PD had 146 officers. Since then, 32 new patches have been added to the ranks.
On average, the department receives 250 calls a day. And beyond leave and PTO, simply retaining officers can be tough, as more officers are handing in their badges.
"It is a very competitive market out there," said Lt. Travis Stefonowicz of the Fargo Police Department.
Between 2009 and 2013, 33 officers resigned. Most of them retired from the department.
Since then, 63 officers have quit, including 10 so far this year. Over the past two years, each officer who left voluntarily resigned. That's why the city has since increased pay. A rookie police officer starts at $54,000, the highest in the region.
Plus, veterans of the force are now eligible for bigger raises. That group is where retention was a big issue.
"When they can go and work for an agency nearby that takes less calls for service and maybe not have to deal with some of those other aspects but makes more money, that certainly makes them more attractive," Stefonowicz said.
A large number of officers leaving also took their police skills to private tech firms.
"I've lost two detectives to Gate City Bank to investigate fraud (and) money laundering," Todd said.
And replacing officers who leave is no easy task for the police department — it takes a year to fill a position.
During the last three hiring phases, there were 87 applicants. Todd ordered background checks on 37 of them and offered 12 of them jobs.
"The citizens have a certain expectation of us, and they have an expectation of the quality of the individual we are going to send out there and wear that police patch . . . we are strict with those hiring practices," Stefonowicz said.
An aspect of police recruitment that might surprise some people is that age isn't necessarily a disqualifying factor. Fargo PD recently hired a rookie officer who is 57 years old, finding value in his life experience and what he could bring to the table.
Despite the department being stretched thin, Todd insists the streets in the city of Fargo are safe.
"That's what everyone asks me. I think they are," he said.