Indiana State Police Trooper Tyler Turchi looks over a motorist’s driver’s license along Indiana 63 near Clinton on Friday during a traffic stop. Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
Indiana State Police Trooper Tyler Turchi looks over a motorist’s driver’s license along Indiana 63 near Clinton on Friday during a traffic stop. Tribune-Star/Joseph C. Garza
Workplace shortages have been reported in a number of industries. Healthcare and mental healthcare fields, food and durable goods production and public education are all desperately seeking to add new employees.

Law enforcement is experiencing the same candidate shortage.

“We have had significantly fewer applicants in recent years,” said Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse. “On our current hiring list, we only have four applicants…. Last year we only had one after testing and background checks were complete.”

Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen agreed. “When I got hired in 1997, there were 300 to 400 applicants resulting in a hiring list of 60,” Keen said. “This last list, we had 14 qualified applicants. It’s been a significant drop. We have experienced what amounts to about a 65% decrease in qualified applicants over the last 20 years.”

When Indiana State Police Trooper Tyler Turchi went to training academy in 2018, there were 60 others in his class.

“Now they start with 20 and finish with 10,” Turchi said.

“We’d definitely take more of them, but right now there are none available,” said Sgt. Matt Ames, public information officer for the ISP Putnamville post.

Keen pointed to some of the factors for the decline in qualified candidates. The rise in recreational drug use can be disqualifying or discourage some applicants from seeking the job.

Also, higher obesity rates translates into fewer fit candidates.

Moreover, Keen said, “An applicant with a lot of debt — in policing, that’s an area of concern. We have to trust you when you’re going to tag evidence [worth] $50,000.”

And, he added, “The younger generation wants to be able to work remotely. For policing, you can’t do that.”

Poaching happens

Another challenge facing police departments who have trained their officers are other cities wanting to poach those officers. Keen noted that Bloomington posted a listing offering three-year patrolmen a starting salary of $72,000.

“That’s more than my base salary as chief of police,” he said with a rueful smile.

Negative perceptions of police work might also have some impact, though.

As Keen noted, “A lot of us who came into this field, we knew we were never going to get rich, it was that we were doing a job that was important.

“This is one of the few jobs on this earth where you are literally going to go out one day and save someone’s life or make a change in someone’s life,” he added. “We focus on that — those are the type of people we want, someone motivated to help the public.”

The difficulty in locating qualified candidates contrasts with the fact that those in the job find it extremely fulfilling.

“This is probably one of the hardest jobs that a person can do, but on the flip side, it’s the most rewarding,” said THPD officer Hanna Atwood, who’s coming up on her second anniversary on the job.

“You have to have a drive to serve your community and be the sort of person who will run toward emergencies when other people would run away from them,” Atwood said.

She added, “That gives you a sense of pride to know that you’re doing good in your community and making a difference on the worst day of someone’s life.”

Turchi agreed: “It’s extremely fulfilling. Even your tougher days, when you’re taking somebody to jail, say they’re a drunk driver, you feel like you’re ruining this guy’s life at the time — that’s what he’s telling you — but at the end of the day, you know you’re potentially saving someone’s life.”

Turchi enjoys almost every aspect of the job, from helping change a motorist’s flat tire to using naloxone to rescue an overdose victim.

Both Atwood and Turchi hail from crime-fighting families — Atwood’s dad is a sheriff in Illinois, while Turchi’s father was a state trooper from 1974-2003. Turchi recalls sitting around a campfire with his pop as he shared his job’s war stories.

“He was explaining this horrific murder, and I was in elementary school — I thought, ‘Oh, my god,’” he recalled.

“What other job could you start out with all these different calls — first on the scene at a murder, and wind up investigating one of the biggest serial killers in the nation?” he added, referring to another case his father solved. “There are endless opportunities. You never know where you’ll end up.”

Staying mentally healthy

Atwood has accrued her share of nightmare cases while on the beat.

“There are cases that have stuck with me and will continue to stick with me,” she said. “You have to learn to balance your mental health with your day-to-day life and cope with the things this job does entail.”

Keen said he is particularly impressed with how his young officers handle mental health situations, which he observed while on ride-alongs with them.

“There are a lot more of them than when I came on 25 years ago,” he said. “And I was very impressed with how they handled those situations, and they get a lot of them.

Being as young as they are, I was impressed with how they were able to talk to people.” Atwood previously served as a mental health technician at Harsha Behavioral Center, so dealing with mental illness in others comes naturally to her.

“Learning communications skills has helped me to speak with someone having a mental health crisis on the streets,” she said. “It’s so prevalent nowadays, it’s just escalated.”

Atwood enjoys the unpredictable nature of her job.

“I never know what I’m walking into on a day-today basis, I never do,” she said. “I’m just a roll-withthe- punches person, I’ll take what comes at me. On the calls that I answer, I will put my best foot forward for the people who have called 911.

“A regular 9-to-5 desk job wasn’t in the cards for me,” Atwood added. “I like not knowing what I’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis. It gives me something to look forward to when I come to work.”
© 2023 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.