Dallas PD focusing on Explorers program to help overcome staffing shortage

The Dallas Police Department recently came up with a new recruiting strategy to try and overcome its staffing shortage.

One of the areas of focus is finding future officers in North Texas and relying less on recruiting in other cities and states. That starts with the Explorer program, where young people have an opportunity to learn about law enforcement.

The head of recruitment for the department says the number one thing young people and millennials are looking for in a career is personal fulfillment.

It's programs like the Explorer program that are showing kids firsthand the positive impacts police officers can have by helping people.

Estefania Olivas is a freshman at Skyline High School and has earned the rank of senior corporal with Dallas Police.

"I'm like I already know how to put on handcuffs and stuff. I just find it really fun,” she said.

Except Olivas ranks in the Explorer program a program for people ages 9 to 21 who have an interest in law enforcement. There are currently about 130 participants.

Olivas has been a part of it for over two years.

I was in it for like a month and I was like, 'I love it.' I had to continue,” she said. “My officers were so nice."

Dallas Police Sgt. Ashaki Hardeman is in charge of the program.

"It's a great tool because we're deterring that youth crime because they understand now, 'I don't want to do that because there's other things in life that I want to do,’” she said. "We're building relationships. We're mentoring. And we're bridging the gap in the community."

But Lt. John Madison hopes it goes beyond that. In fact, as the head of recruitment for the department, he's committed to hiring 255 people this year. He says programs like this cultivates local talent to get them into local law enforcement.

"We definitely concentrate on our homegrown people because a local officer can relate better to the community,” he said.

The department has been recruiting at colleges and military bases and even flying to New York City to hire more officers who are needed desperately.

According to the Dallas Police Association, the total force now is a little over 3,000, meaning they are at least 800 short of being fully staffed.

DPD has lost more officers than it could hire each of the last three years. The police chief admits the trend will continue this year.

“We've seen lately our numbers increase once we raised our starting pay to $60,000 and $63,000 with a degree,” Madison said. “That has increased our applicant pool."

Madison says they've already hired 67 officers this year and are investing in programs like the Explorer program so they could sustain staffing levels in the future.

"They teach you more than how to be a cop,” Olivas said. “They teach you life lessons along the way."

Dallas Police are also working to create a program that would pick up after the Explorer program, hiring college students on part-time and assigning them a mentor so they can become an officer upon graduation.