In an attempt to attract more qualified applicants, including minorities, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block on Wednesday announced liberalized hiring standards for the department that include accepting non-U.S. citizens and lowering the minimum age from 21 to 20.
Block said the changes were part of an aggressive effort to increase the size of the Sheriff's Department over the next four years from 7,000 deputies to about 9,000.
Speaking at his monthly meeting with reporters, the sheriff said the changes were prompted, in part, because there are not enough qualified candidates.
Last year, for example, 50% of the 26,000 people who applied to become a sheriff's deputy failed the written exam, Block said. Ultimately, only 500 of those applicants joined the department, he added.
"That's a real tragedy," the sheriff said. "Any legitimate high school graduate should pass that written exam."
By comparison, the percentage of those passing the Los Angeles Police Department's written exam has been higher. Although the most recent results were not available, LAPD statistics show that 72.1% of applicants who took the exam in June, 1985, passed it. Those applicants with at least two years of college were not required to take the exam, officials said.
Block said a noticeable number of Sheriff's Department applicants also do not have good problem-solving skills. "We're willing to teach people how to spell . . . but you can't overlook a failure to reason or comprehend," he said.
To draw candidates from sources not tapped in the past, Block said the department will now accept applications from legal resident aliens who have applied for U.S. citizenship in the last year.
Block said he hopes these candidates will help boost the department's minority representation. At present, 14% of the department's force is Latino, 10% black and 2% Asian.
"With the tremendous influx from all over the world, there is a greater need to try and establish a department that closely reflects the community makeup," he said.
On lowering the minimum age to 20, Block said the change would not affect the quality of law enforcement in the sheriff's jurisdiction, pointing out that a deputy's first assignment is two to three years at a jail facility.
"They actually will be better prepared for that (first) street assignment than anyone coming out of any police academy in this country, I believe," he said.
Applicants accepted into the sheriff's academy earn from $2,500 to $2,800 a month. Uniformed deputies, below the rank of sergeant, can earn as much as $36,000 a year.
Other changes instituted by Block include:
- Speeding up the hiring process from 10 months to about 90 days by streamlining procedures for the scheduling of oral interviews and background checks.
- Hiring of graduates from state-approved academies where recruits pay for the training and look for jobs on their own. Those recruits may undergo additional training if they do not meet department standards, Block said. At present, applicants must graduate from the Sheriff's Academy in Whittier.
- Allowing candidates who flunk portions of the application exam to retake it in two months, instead of six.
What was left unclear in the sheriff's recruitment plans was whether there was enough money to accommodate his desire to increase the force to 9,000 deputies.