- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

D.C. police are having a tough time competing with rich, suburban counties not to mention the new federal sky marshal program in their search for rookie police officers for the District. And, to show how tough it is to collar recruits these days, yesterday's Metropolitan Police Department job fair had to compete with a Prince George's County recruitment truck parked outside the Convention Center where the MPD job fair took place.
Applicants have the upper hand these days.
Advertisements on the Internet publicize the much-coveted federal air marshal jobs that offer salaries up to $83,000, according to one electronic flier making the rounds. These kinds of jobs catch the attention of prospective police officers in the area and skim the cream of the crop of available applicants.
"One of the biggest competitors is the sky marshal program. We've lost a few people to that program not just [to] local law enforcement [recruiters]," said Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.
"This is a tough region with Prince George's, Montgomery and Fairfax Counties all clumped together. But, we've been able to hold our numbers fairly well," he said.
The chief said the Metropolitan Police Department has 3,609 police officers on the payroll right now. He hopes to increase that number to 3,800 by the end of 2003.
Hundreds of candidates from 20 to 38 years of age began filing through the doors at 9 a.m. More than 100 were already being tested by 10 a.m. After completion of a two-hour intelligence test, applicants were taken to the Police Academy in Southeast for physical ability tests.
"Job fairs like this are needed because for every 10 applicants, one person is hired. [The others] either don't pass the background check or they find other work," Chief Ramsey said.
Recently, a team traveled to Puerto Rico to recruit potential police officers. The chief is trying to beef up the numbers of Hispanic officers on the force since Hispanic communities are growing in the District.
The big turnout yesterday had something to do with wanting to protect and serve, but it also was about the the money new officers can now command in the marketplace.
"One of the things that is good now compared to before I started [is] we now offer a competitive salary. At one time, the District lagged far behind [other jurisdications],"Chief Ramsey said.
Today, the starting salary for police officers is $37,756 a year. After 18 months the salary increases to $43,374, said Inspector Jeff Moore, the director of the Office of Recruitment and a 29-year veteran.
Inspector Moore was also excited by the number of people who showed up to be tested.
"There seems to be a desire to give back to the community to feel useful. People want to have a satisfying career," Inspector Moore said.
Steven Cantara, for example, drove down from New Jersey on Friday night to attend the job fair. Mr. Cantara, 31, works as a state corrections officer at the Northern State Prison outside Newark. But since childhood his dream has been to become a policeman, he said after completing the written test.
It's not about the money for him. And, he's not intimidated by crime on the streets of Washington.
"I already work in corrections I'm around felons all day. The salary is the same, I just want to be a cop where it matters," he said.
Creighton Mark, 38, took the test, too. He is a jewelry salesman who wants to change his life around. Mr. Mark, who lives in Northwest, said a lot of people his age are making transitions from one career to another. He'd like to be assigned to the Harbor Patrol. That's his dream. Like Mr. Cantara, he's not frightened by the stories people tell about the dangers of being a District policeman.
"I have a friend who is a Fairfax police officer, and there's more risk driving around the Beltway than being a D.C. policeman," he said.
Other applicants were inspired by parents, or brothers and sisters who are already police officers. That's the case with Darnell Everett, 27, whose sister is a D.C. officer assigned to the 6th District in Northeast.
His decision to apply didn't come quickly or easily. He worked as a medical assistant in New York for several years. When he returned home to the District last year, he found things hadn't changed all that much in Ward 7. "I see a lot of the same things going on kids on the streets, violence, and I've got a heart to help out in those areas," Mr. Everett said.
"I know there's risk involved, [but] every night isn't violent. Oftentimes, people just need some help," he said.

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