Lafayette plans police academy in January

13 of 110 applicants offered officer jobs

The Lafayette Police Department has offered jobs to 13 applicants who were among 110 to apply since November, when the department started advertising to fill 17 vacancies, Chief Jim Craft said Friday.

The men and women chosen were winnowed from the pool of applicants after preliminary written exams, physical strength and endurance tests, and background checks.

Craft said the candidates are undergoing more rigorous physical and psychological testing. Eight of the applicants passing those phases will attend police academy classes in January; five will enter their careers in Lafayette already certified.

Soon, they’ll be paired with veteran patrol officers, and sometime in the second half of 2014 the rookies should be able to patrol the streets of Lafayette alone, Craft said.

Craft, who has been Lafayette’s police chief since 2006, said the department faces stiff competition in recruiting officers. The oil field and other industries start pay at tens of thousands of dollars more than a Lafayette rookie’s base pay of between $33,000 to $40,000 a year, depending on if the officer qualifies for $500 a month from the state.

“It’s good for a guy who wants a career in law enforcement and a strong pension when he retires,” Craft said. “The problem is it takes so long to make rank.”

A 30-year officer with the rank of major makes $92,000 a year.

Lafayette Consolidated Government is projected to spend $14.5 million on police department pay in the 2013-14 budget year, which began Nov. 1. The budget on salaries is a 2.5 percent increase over 2012-13.

Benefits — health insurance and retirement contributions — will be around $7.5 million.

Other line items in the budget are for training and to buy and equip police cars. On transportation alone, Lafayette city-parish government will spend almost $2 million in the next year.

Also expensive is a recruit’s first year on the force.

“To hire, train and fully equip an officer costs around $100,000,” Craft said.

To close the gap in qualified law officers, Lafayette uses a comprehensive approach: a multistate help-wanted campaign utilizing billboards, Internet and other media.

The reward was good candidates, including five with experience, he said, adding that Lafayette could use the extra help now. A run of armed robberies in the last few weeks has taxed the department.

“We’re just in our new (budget) year and we’ve had to hit our overtime budget really hard,” Craft said.