SALEM, Va. (WFXR) — Seats are full in classrooms at the Cardinal Criminal Justice Academy.

The academy has 56 recruits, their largest class ever. It’s about 25% bigger than their last biggest class.

Gary Moore, the executive director, says while departments across the nation have seen recruit shortages the academy has seen slow growth.

“Probably over last two, three years, as the pandemic began, we’ve been getting more and more recruits,” he said.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has one of the largest groups of recruits at Cardinal.
Captain Erik Mollin says that’s because they’ve added several positions for local school resource officers.

“We get quite a few applications, but once we start showing requirements and having people go out of their way to attend things beyond just putting in a piece of paper is when we see a reduction of interest,” he said.

Other agencies have had to offer recruitment incentives. The Roanoke City Sheriff’s Department added sign-on bonuses as recently as October.

“For one thing, historically across the country, there’s been fewer and fewer people who have the desire to go into law enforcement,” explained Moore.

“There’s a lot more vacancies now, and the vacancies are for the same reason we may see a drop in applications, and that’s just the fact of the community’s feeling towards law enforcement,” said Mollin.

There’s also the issue of retirement. A congressional report on 2021 numbers showed a 45% increase in retirements in state and local law enforcement.

“Maybe in today’s time, law enforcement is not the most ideal career for a lot of people,” said recruit Dylan Shipman, who’s training to serve as a Franklin County deputy. “Not everybody wants to do it. A lot of people getting out of it that have been in it for years. I just feel like it’s kind of my calling.”

Moore adds that recruitment to fill these roles is adapting.

“I think a lot of agencies are pushing hard for recruiting. They’re going out doing recruiting events, it’s an open hiring process trying to get more and more recruits,” he said, adding that training at the Academy is changing too. “We’re trying to get a whole new perspective on it. We’re trying to show people officer safety is the number one thing.”

Recruit Samuel Messer, who is also training to be a Franklin County deputy, says it’s just encouraging to see he has so many classmates.

“It shows that more people want to get into this profession,” he said. “The numbers are starting to pick back up with law enforcement, and people aren’t as afraid to get into it.”

Moore says the Academy is considering adding a third class to their year because already the large class size is too big for their facility.