Island Visit

Police Recruit In Puerto Rico

Posted February 12, 2003 at 6:34pm

Looking to tap a new source of potential recruits, the Capitol Police have turned to Puerto Rico. Several of the department’s recruiters visited the island commonwealth last week in a trip police spokeswoman Kim Bolinger described as “successful.” Although the department’s recruiting staff hosts numerous events in the District, Maryland and Virginia, and makes three trips per month to other cities nationwide, this is the first time the department has visited Puerto Rico, Bolinger said.

Chief Terrance Gainer first proposed expanding that program while interviewing for his current post with the Police Board, which includes House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Alfonso Lenhardt and Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman.

The department’s program is modeled on the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s, where Gainer served before coming to Capitol Hill.

Nearly 60 applicants registered to take a preliminary screening test at the recruiting session, Bolinger said. The Capitol Police requires all would-be officers — who must meet age, education and citizenship requirements — to complete the entry-level police officer examination, which tests reading comprehension, arithmetic, grammar, punctuation and spelling abilities. The pass/fail test, which takes about an hour and a half to complete, determines if an applicant will proceed to the next stage of the interview process.

Of the 41 test-takers, 15 successfully completed the examination, Bolinger said, adding that the typical passage rate is about 50 percent. She attributed the lower passage rate to the fact that the test is conducted only in English.

The 15 applicants who qualified to move on will be required to take polygraph, psychological and medical examinations, as well as undergo a background investigation.

“All those who pass all phases would be offered a position,” Bolinger said. The department, which is currently authorized to have 1,810 full-time equivalent officers, did not set a recruitment goal for its Puerto Rico visit. In recent months, the department has begun to improve its retention rate; it had a total of 1,542 FTEs in December. The Capitol Police Board is currently funded to support 1,570 FTEs.

Department recruiters, who aim to complete the interview process within four to six months, plan to conduct additional interviews and polygraph tests in Puerto Rico and hope to complete medical and psychological exams there as well, although those plans have not been finalized.

“They’re hoping to do it in Puerto Rico because of the expense,” Bolinger noted.

The Metropolitan Police Department now conducts similar exams in Puerto Rico, rather than requiring candidates to make repeated trips to the District, said Bert Ennis, MPD’s director of human resources.

“We actually scheduled their medical [exam] and psychologicals on the island itself. So we were able to complete the process in a much more abbreviated time frame,” he said. The department made two recruiting trips to Puerto Rico in 2002, hiring 35 new officers. Ennis said MPD expects to make employment offers to another 60 candidates shortly.

Experienced officers may seek out the D.C.-based departments in part because of pay, Ennis said. An inspector in Puerto Rico with 30 years of experience would be paid about $32,000, while a comparable post at MPD would earn $90,000. The Capitol Police lists its starting salary at $39,427.

In addition to increasing the number of potential officers, Gainer has previously said recruiting in Puerto Rico could increase the diversity of the department.

“That was one of the goals” of the trip, Bolinger said. “As far as other programs, they’re looking at trips to places like Miami and Texas, even our local communities here.”

The would-be recruits includes a mix of female and male civilians and current police officers, of both Puerto Rican and non-Puerto Rican descent.

Although the department will not pay for recruits to visit the District before they arrive for training, the fiscal 2003 omnibus spending bill would provide relocation allowances for new officers. In the meantime, recruiters provided some information, such as apartment-locator publications, to applicants and will continue serve as an informal support system.

No additional recruiting trips to Puerto Rico are planned thus far, but Bolinger said department officials would like to arrange more trips in the future.