Joplin police and fire vacancies are on a downward trend after last year’s high turnover rates in the departments.
Police Chief Matt Stewart told the Joplin City Council last week that his department has a dozen fewer open jobs than it did six months ago. He spoke to the council about reclassification of one position in the department to take crime reports that come in by phone or from residents who come to the policy lobby to make a report.
Council member Jim West asked the chief about the status of the department job openings.
“It’s getting much better. We currently are at seven vacancies, whereas a few months ago we were at 19,” Stewart said. “We have 11 in an in-house academy who will graduate next week. They will then begin the field training program, which is 16 weeks, so we have some light coming at the end of the tunnel.”
Police said hiring took an uptick after the public safety unions last year won wage increases that they said were necessary to slow the number of experienced personnel who were leaving the departments for higher wages elsewhere. Police union members said attrition was creating safety hazards for officers as well as residents.
Councilman Anthony Monteleone asked when the department was last fully staffed or close to that.
“With an agency the size of ours, 112 positions or 111 sworn officers, the times of being fully staffed are few and far between. My ideal number is if we could keep it between two to three vacancies, that’s something we can work with,” Stewart said.
“There’s been times over the years when we have been fully staffed. But a lot of times we have retirements come along or people get in training and don’t finish. I think around the (2011) tornado we were pretty fully staffed, but it’s not usually for a long amount of time just because of the numbers,” the chief said.
The department had 30 fewer positions prior to 2006, when voters approved the half-cent public safety sales tax to pay for public safety improvements, including adding more police officers and firefighters to Joplin’s ranks.
There have been 10 vacancies on the Joplin Fire Department’s roster, which numbers 95 positions.
Fire Chief Jim Furgerson said there are currently seven in the firefighter training academy, which leaves three unfilled jobs. Of the seven new hires, three are expected to be ready for duty by the end of February. The other four will be on board in late April or early May as they complete EMT classes and training school.
Both the Joplin police and fire departments have upcoming tests scheduled for those who want to apply.
The police department will test applicants on Saturday. Applications can be downloaded from joplinpolice.org or obtained from the city’s human resources office, located on the first floor of City Hall, 602 S. Main St.
The fire department is part of a consortium of departments that recruit through the Tri-State Fire Recruitment Alliance, which will offer the next round of applicant testing in March. Applications are available at tsfra.com or Joplin’s human resources office. There is a $50 fee to take the test.