The Emergency Community Help Organization's first job fair last week was relatively small in scope, but the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office delivered a big presence: three recruiters and HCSO recruitment and screening manager Richard Lozada.
"We spoke to about 50 people that expressed interest in careers with HCSO," Lozada said of the Sept. 27 event. "Some have started the application process. Overall, it was a success.
HCSO's effort reflected its ongoing recruiting push — specifically for minorities, women and young adults — as it looks to add greater diversity to its ranks and maintain its connection with the community.
Lozada said with 4,000 employees, HCSO now stands as the nation's seventh-largest sheriff's office, yet they are still constantly on the search to fill both sworn and civilian positions.
Maj. Alan Hill, who heads HCSO's District II patrol division, addressed the growing need for more dedicated men and women to join the agency at a Seffner Chamber of Commerce luncheon earlier this year, noting that the agency wants to hire more minorities, women and people from Hillsborough County.
"We have a lot of vacancies now," Hill said. "Most all of them are due to retirement because the Sheriff's Office grew substantially back in the late '70s and early '80s. It grew by leaps and bounds and those individuals are starting to hit their retirement age."
Now, the void left by retirees is being filed by a younger, increasingly more diverse crowd of African-Americans, Hispanics, women and military veterans according to Lozada. Currently, 17 percent of all HCSO employees are African-American, another 17 percent are Hispanic, 2 percent are Asian and 34 percent are female.
Last year, HCSO held its first Women in Law Enforcement Job Fair to encourage women to join the male-dominated Sheriff's Office. More than 250 women attended the event.
"Law enforcement is an occupation that females excel in," Hill said. "I know it firsthand. When I started in this business I was trained by one."
According to Lozada, 15 percent of all employees are between the ages of 18-29. In 2014, new recruit law enforcement and detention classes were composed of approximately 30 percent minorities.
"We are very aggressive in our attempt to identify minorities but also military U.S. vets," Lozada said. "Part of the challenge is simply getting the word out to folks because our standards are pretty high."
By turning efforts toward high schools and colleges and implementing high school and college level internships, Lozada said they are able to educate diverse groups of students on the high level of standards that apply not only to physical fitness but to every aspect of the applicant's life.
"It's important for us to go speak to high school and college kids up front and let them know that some of the things they may do as young adults may affect them should they choose to apply for a position in law enforcement with any agency, not just with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office," Lozada said.
Last year, 51 of more than 75 recruiting events attended or conducted by HCSO were college and classroom presentations. During these events, a combination of civilian and law enforcement positions are represented.
"We know that having a badge and wearing a gun isn't for everyone," said HCSO's director of human resources Michele Hamilton. "We want to let people know they can thrive doing so many things other than those sworn positions."
The variety of civilian positions currently available range from personal health positions to crossing guard data specialists.
"We also have a very aggressive program with many of the colleges and universities throughout Florida," Lozada said. "But in particular our historically black colleges and universities such as FAMU, Bethune-Cookman and Edward Waters up in Jacksonville, where we have made presentations and/or conducted recruitment activities."
Last month, HCSO was one of seven state law enforcement agencies chosen to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to hire additional police officers. The $625,000 will go primarily toward new resource deputy positions.
The agency also can entice applicants with good pay and benefits.
Hamilton says the agency receives slightly more than many other local sheriff's offices.
"The benefits of working for the Sheriff's Office are immense," Hill said. "We're well-compensated. Even through these trying economic times, we've done well.
Contact Kelsey Sunderland at firstname.lastname@example.org.