FARMINGTON — More than 10 percent of Farmington police officers are still in training and are not yet patrolling the streets.
The Farmington Police Department has 131 authorized positions, and it currently has 113 certified officers.
There are cadets, still in police academy, lined up to fill the 18 vacant positions, said Farmington police Capt. Vince Mitchell.
The police department has four cadets in a police academy in Kirtland that ends next month and three cadets in a police academy in Santa Fe. Another nine cadets are scheduled to start the 24-week police academy program in October and several certified police officers from elsewhere have applied to the department, Mitchell said.
"We're a large agency, and we cycle through people ... for a variety of reasons," Mitchell said. "We have our highs and our lows, and this is a low point."
Mitchell said one of the ways that officers compensated for the vacant positions has been by assigning traffic, bicycle or K-9 officers to respond to 911 calls.
He said the current staffing level is not unique. The department is constantly recruiting and hiring staff because officers leave the department. In recent years, police focused on year-round recruiting of women, Native Americans and other minorities to diversify the department.
"We will continue recruiting no matter what," Mitchell said. "Even if we have to establish a waiting list."
All large law enforcement agencies go through periods where they must operate without all positions filled, said San Juan County Sheriff's Office Capt. Brice Current. That's often because there is an extensive background check, the hiring process takes weeks and the training academy takes more than five months.
The sheriff's office has 96 certified deputies filling its 102 authorized positions, according to sheriff's office statistics. The office has five cadets in the current police academy, Current said.
"That is fully staffed," Current said. "You're always going to have a rotation."