Sweating and trying to catch his breath, Thomas Lydic explained why he wanted to be a cop.

Lydic, 23, had just finished the Hutchinson Police Department’s obstacle course on Sunday at the Salthawk Activity Center under the required three minutes and 15 seconds.

“I had a couple friends in law enforcement and I really looked up to them, so I would say they are my inspiration,” Lydic said, adding the negative publicity toward law enforcement in recent years did weigh in on his decision.

“But it also drives me to be even a better cop,” he said.

He was one of three cadets to make it this far — only two successfully completed the obstacle course and moved onto the written test. The department has other cadets further along in training.

The department needs to fill four positions and is struggling to find qualified candidates.

 

Lt. John Taylor said seven people passed the background check and were invited to Sunday’s testing. Only three showed up. Taylor said Sunday’s turnout is the lowest that anyone can remember. In 1991, when Taylor went through his training with the HPD, there were “at least” 50 cadets to make it to the obstacle course.

“We didn’t have all the social media we have now. All the media exposure,” Taylor said.

Taylor believes a negative public perception caught by the evolution of body camera footage and other recording devices has led to drop in qualified candidates. Media coverage of officers shot has also shortened the pool of qualified applicants.

Taylor said he knew of others departments that struggle as well. He didn’t want to speculate on any other factors that might be causing the number of qualified applicants to drop.

“It’s not a desirable job,” he said. “You aren’t going to get six figures and it’s a dangerous profession.”

As a result, the department and many others have taken more active approaches in recruitment. The HPD launched an 8-minute recruitment video in 2016 that touts the department’s “competitive pay” and benefits along with all that Hutchinson has to offer.

In October, the Garden City Police Department posted a similar video on its Facebook page. Sgt. Bill Powers said the GCPD has not struggled to recruit officers, but is always looking because officers retire or go to other departments.

Reno County Sheriff’s Capt. Shawn McClay said the office was making background checks for four applicants to fill future positions at the county jail.

“(We are) trying to keep the applicant pool filled,” he said.

In the case of GCPD, Taylor thought a robust criminal justice program at the Garden City Community College could supplement the GCPD’s recruitment efforts. Whatever the case, all of the law enforcement agencies said recruitment efforts have changed with the times.

Taylor said HPD visits all of the local schools, and attends career fairs.

So has the Reno County Sheriff’s Office. The community engagement has caught the attention of 5-year-old Raleigh Owen who dressed a cop for career day at Magnet School at Allen. It also helps that she has a role model close by; her godfather is deputy Taylor Clifford.

“I want to protect people,” she said.

The sheriff’s office began its recruitment efforts early for the blonde-haired girl. They sent the kindergartener a letter, patch and a badge after they found out about her career day choice.

As for the two HPD cadets that moved on, they had a written test later in the day. If they passed, the cadets would then need to pass a board interview and complete a ride-along. Finally, the cadets will have a more thorough background check before being hired on by the department.