Looking For A Few Good Men And Women

Looking For A Few Good Men And Women

Matt Moyer has been in the hotel and restaurant management business for 16 years, and he's decided it's time for a change.

That's why the Dale City resident found himself at the Capital Area Law Enforcement Job Fair last weekend, the first of its kind in the area.

Moyer has been considering joining law enforcement for several years. His wife is a federal police officer.

"It's something you can be proud of doing," he said.

More than 600 people like Moyer filed through the job fair. The Loudoun County SheriffÕs Office originally came up with the idea last fall, and it became such a success that thereÕs already talk of holding it twice a year.

The 26 participating law enforcement agencies present at the fair compete for fresh blood during year-round recruitment efforts, and the job fair was no different. Potential recruits wandered from booth to booth, considering each agencyÕs pitch, picking up Ñ and sometimes even turning in Ñ applications.

With the increase of Homeland Security and defense employment in the Washington, D.C., area, recruiting law enforcement has become an even more difficult challenge.

ÒWeÕre all fishing in the same water in a diminishing pool,Ó said Dwight Bower, director of recruiting for the Fairfax County Police Department.

Even so, only about one in 10 applicants will become one of Fairfax CountyÕs 1,300 sworn officers.

ONLY ABOUT one in 20 applicants to the Loudoun County SheriffÕs Office will be hired.

As the stateÕs largest full-service sheriffÕs office, Loudoun County faces a distinct challenge: drawing potential new recruits into a rapidly growing office that does more than the traditional courts and jail duty of other sheriffÕs offices.

Moyer, the restaurateur, was surprised to learn about Loudoun's many specialized departments: crime scene investigation, underwater reconnaissance, K-9 units.

"I didn't realize it was so diverse," he said.

This year, Sheriff Steve Simpson said he will hire 61 new employees on top of the agency's 500 current employees.

With a population that will double in 20 years, Loudoun's Sheriff's Office has labored to keep up. Increased cost of living has kept many potential recruits away, even with a base salary that starts at $36,000 and varies with experience.

Ten years ago, the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office wasn't nearly as specialized as it is today, Simpson said. New recruits will have opportunities to advance not seen at agencies in built-out localities.

"We're kind of like the ground floor," Simpson said.

Sgt. Michael Eiland, a corrections officer at the Loudoun County jail, earnestly pitched the sheriff's office to dozens of passers-by.

Moving to Loudoun was Eiland's best move after 21 years in law enforcement.

"I love it," he said. "You're treated like a person, not a number."

POTENTIAL recruits wandered from cramped booth to cramped booth like judges at a science fair, many gathering around the FBI's impressive display.

Several hours before closing time, the Fairfax County Police Department had already taken in dozens of applications. But how many would turn up at examinations and interviews was an unknown, as many potential recruits stopped at every agency.

At the Fairfax booth, Bower had carefully chosen officers to reflect a wide demographic: two African-Americans, one male and one female, one Vietnamese officer and one Hispanic officer.

With anywhere from 20 to 30 vacancies at any given time, Bower has refined his recruiting technique. The agency sets up booths at colleges and military bases, and so far, Bower likes the job fair's "one-stop shopping" approach for recruits.

Fairfax, like many agencies, recruits from all over the East Coast. But many new recruits are in for a shock when they encounter the area's real estate market, clogged highways and cost of living.

"People coming here have to be very committed to law enforcement," Bower said.

For those already in law enforcement, recruitment is still of utmost importance. Deputy E. Torres, a corrections officer with the Arlington County Sheriff's Office, summed up what he wanted in a colleague.

"Somebody that can back me up with I need it," Torres said. "A reliable, confident person."