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Sheriff Penzone worries about recruitment under policing spotlight

(Facebook Photo/MCSO)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said recruiting for law enforcement has taken a hit in the past year as policing efforts have come under scrutiny across the country and in Arizona.

“We’re seeing a reduction in those who are applying for the opportunity. The passion is still there for a lot of young men and women, but the volume has definitely decreased and that’s a concern for those of us in law enforcement,” Penzone said Monday on KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show.

Penzone said there was a healthy side to the public’s call for accountability in police actions. Cities across the country saw a summer of protests over officer-related deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other minorities.

Last week, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in the murder of Floyd. Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground by putting his knee on the man’s neck for nearly 10 minutes.

“We see this dialog of law enforcement accountability, which is a good thing. What is a bad thing is law enforcement demonization,” Penzone said.

“When we make a mistake or do something wrong, there must be accountability. It must be fair, it must be just, it must have due process, no different than any other aspect of the criminal justice system.”

Penzone said he believed painting law enforcement with broad strokes sends the wrong message to qualified law enforcement academy candidates.

“Those who want to pursue this career, who are ethical and have integrity, who would be highly qualified … they have to question it: ‘Why would I want to be in a profession where we face so much scrutiny?'”

Before the COVID-19 health crisis rolled across the state and world over a year ago, his office had done well recruiting, he said.

“We actually reduced our vacancy ratio from 13% down to 3% or 4%. COVID hit and we saw a lot of people leave the profession.”

Then, because of safety measures designed to slow the spread of the virus, training academies were postponed.

Now, with more deputies and other personnel eligible for retirement, there’s a gap between them and new hires.

“Normally, you want to keep a balanced recruitment and retention plan. When it comes to experience, we lack balance,” Penzone said.

“At the end of the day, we’re working hard to build a reputation for this office, where the men and women are recognized for the exceptional work, that we are viewed as one of the best law enforcement agencies in the nation. But to be viewed that way, you have to perform that way.”

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