The Tucson Police Department hopes to hire dozens of officers by next summer, increasing its ranks after losing numerous positions to budget cuts and attrition.
That could give the department more than 900 officers, which is more than the previous couple of years but still about 100 positions fewer than the department had at its peak about four years ago, officials said.
There are currently 932 officers, although the department is authorized to have 973, said Assistant Chief John Leavitt. In September 2008, there were more than 1,100 police officers, he said.
Although the department wants to hire the officers by next June, which is the end of the 2013 fiscal year, the hires would add only about 66 extra officers, he said.
The remainder of the 150 would fill vacant positions left by those who are expected to retire, leave for other law enforcement agencies or drop out of the police academy, based on projections for the next year, he said.
"The bottom line is, we're a smaller department than before," Leavitt said.
The department normally loses about five officers per month, he said.
Several hiring grants that pay for new officers have enabled the department to regain some hiring momentum within the last couple of years despite the budget troubles.
The Tucson Police Department isn't the only agency looking for new officers.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department just closed its application process Friday and is hoping to hire up to 35 deputies, said Sgt. Dawn Barkman, a Pima County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman.
The Tucson Police Department does not have a set number of people it wants to hire for its next academy, but it will accept as many as it can, said Tucson Police Recruitment Officer Liz Skeenes.
The department will accept applications for the next police academy until Aug. 3, with the academy for those who are hired starting in January.
About 20 recruits are currently attending an academy that is scheduled to end next month, Skeenes said.
The department will hold a post-basic-training academy in October for newly hired officers who have already attended a police academy, he said.
One of those potential officers, Troy Lansdale, was among 13 cadets who graduated last week from Pima Community College's Law Enforcement Academy.
Lansdale has taken the written and physical tests and completed an oral interview board with Tucson police, he said.
The Police Department is now conducting a background check on Lansdale before doing a polygraph test, he said.
If Lansdale passes the background check and the polygraph, he'll have to attend the post-basic-training academy before moving on to field training with the department.
He also has applied to the Oro Valley Police Department.
The Tucson Police Department has a rigorous hiring process, even for newly certified officers like Lansdale.
However, Lansdale likes the department's advancement opportunities.
"It's a big agency, big enough that, when you get in, you can move in to a special assignment," he said. "After three years, you can progress to whatever specialty you want to do."
Police officials are optimistic the new officers will help provide an increased police presence and better service than in recent years.
Although the staffing situation is improving, it still likely won't be enough to bring back certain officer assignments or other services, he said.
In 2010, TPD moved officers working on special units such as the DUI squad and motorcycle officers to regular patrols to keep more officers on the street.
Leavitt said the department is hoping to fully restore the number of motorcycle officers, which was cut from 32 to 16. There are now 24 motorcycle officers.
"We hope to work on traffic-safety issues that have been deferred" for the last couple of years, he said.
The department also stopped responding to vehicle crashes unless someone was injured, a driver seemed impaired or a crash was blocking the road.
Response times for 911 calls have also increased over the years.
Between July 2011 and May, it took 96 minutes for police to respond to low-priority calls such as residential burglaries, according to department statistics.
It took 70 minutes for the same calls between July 2010 and June 2011.
"We're cautiously optimistic to see an improving staffing picture this year," Leavitt said. "We're not going to be where we were. The new normal is more than a 10 percent reduction."
Contact reporter Jamar Younger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4115.