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Board OKs Bonus to Fill 81 Deputy Slots

Sheriff requests reward, payable to Ventura County employees, to aid recruiting efforts.

October 05, 2005|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors agreed Tuesday to pay a $1,000 bonus to any county employee who successfully recruits a deputy to the Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff Bob Brooks requested the reward to help fill 81 deputy vacancies in his department, about 11% of his 742-deputy force. The sheriff added that he also is having difficulty filling dispatcher positions.

Intense competition with other law enforcement agencies, low unemployment and the high cost of housing in Ventura County is driving away young deputies and making it difficult to draw new ones, the sheriff said.

"For every three successful graduates from our training program, 100 must apply," Brooks said. "We're lucky to get two or three through the academy."

The bonus is part of a broader $189,000 campaign to target home-grown candidates more aggressively, and reach out to applicants across California who might not be aware of the county's job prospects, Brooks said.

A recruiter will be hired to create advertising and video presentations for career fairs, athletic events, fitness clubs and colleges, he said. "Ventura County is a great place to live and work and raise a family. Those are our recruiting advantages," he told the supervisors. "What we need help with is getting the word out."

Historically, word of mouth has been the best route to securing well-qualified candidates, Brooks said. County staff members previously steered to his department friends and family who had the "right attitude and strong work ethic" to make it as a sheriff's deputy, he said.

Adding a financial incentive might speed up and broaden the process, Brooks said.

Ventura County has struggled to fill deputy slots for several years. The hiring process is rigorous; applicants, who must be at least 19 years old and have a high school diploma, are expected to pass a civil service exam, a physical agility test, a medical exam, background checks and psychological screening, then endure a 24-week academy boot camp.

Trainee salaries start at $50,000 annually and move up to $65,000 in about two years, sheriff's Cmdr. Keith Parks said.

Ventura County must compete with dozens of law enforcement agencies in Southern California, including the larger and better-paying Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department, Parks said.

"We're all trying to get the same recruits," he said. "But the two agencies doing the biggest recruiting right now are LAPD and LASO [L.A. County sheriff's office]. LAPD has a fantastic recruitment video that they show on prime time. It's like you're watching a cops' show."

The Los Angeles city and county agencies also pay a starting salary that is a little higher than Ventura County's, Parks said, and make extensive use of billboards to advertise positions.

"No. 1, we don't have billboards in Ventura County, and No. 2, we couldn't afford one if we did," he said.

With Ventura County's median home prices close to $700,000, the department's surest bet is people who already live here, Parks said.

"They're our captive audience," he said.

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