The Sioux Falls Police Department in South Dakota has decided to offer $5K hiring bonuses for new hires in an effort to boost recruiting.
Police officials hope the new incentive will expand the pool of applicants and attract a wider variety of candidates to the department, which has been criticized for its lack of diversity in the past. According to spokesperson Sam Clemens, this is the first time in the agency’s history that it has offered such an incentive.
The department stated that newly hired officers will receive the $1,000 added onto their first paycheck, and $4,000 more after passing a 15-month probationary period.
“What we’re doing is just trying to hopefully get some more interest … The numbers, I think nationwide, have been down as far as new police applicants,” Clemens said at a press conference. “So we’re hoping that this might spur on some more interest.”
Last year, the police department began experimenting with financial incentives after witnessing other departments across the country employ similar tactics to draw recruits. The first bonus was $500 after a new officer’s first paycheck, and $1,000 after passing the probationary period.
The Sioux Falls Police Department is the largest law enforcement agency in South Dakota. Currently, the department staffs 288 officers out of its authorized level of 288. Thirty-five of those officers are in training.
“We know that not everybody in training makes it all the way through, so there’s a certain percentage, and certainly it varies from class to class, but on paper right now, we’re short eight officers,” Clemens said.
Clemens said the incentive scheme was a result of cooperation between the city and the police chief.
“In a perfect world, you’d have an unlimited number of cops, but the realistic side of that is, there’s a cost that comes with that. So the chief works closely with the mayor and the city council and trying to find that balance of what that number of employee is provided.”
Police leaders also hope the move will add more diversity to the department.
“It’s somewhat naïve to think that we can just achieve diversity through issuing a press release or asking for it,” Chief Jon Thum told the Argus Leader in 2021, when he was still a finalist for the job. “We need to partner with different community groups to say, ‘How can we encourage and support young people who have law enforcement in mind to make that seem like it’s a career path worth taking?’”
In 2019, the paper reported that the department was 90% white and male. Data from the City of Sioux Falls shows that the department had just four Black and five Asian officers on duty.
“We still have to make that emphasis on increasing that pool of applicants. And I think that’s where in the next couple of years … We continue our investment,” Thum said earlier this year.
That said, the agency has no plans to lower its standards. To be eligible for the hiring bonus and become a police officer, applicants must be older than 21 and younger than 44 with the equivalent of 60 hours of college credits.
Applicants must also have a driver’s license and a clean criminal background, and must be drug-free.
“We are looking for quality people to become police officers in Sioux Falls,” Thum said in a press release. “Offering a sign-on bonus may help to bring attention to the incredible department we have in Sioux Falls and may help influence someone to apply.”