CORTE MADERA - The California Highway Patrol has a new graduating class of 112 officers rolling out on the roads this November.
The new officers are part of the CHP's efforts to address a severe staffing shortage.
"On average, the Highway Patrol has about 1,000 vacancies for our uniformed positions," said Captain Tyler Carlton, the commander of the CHP Marin office in Corte Madera.
Captain Carlton says the "CHP 1,000" recruiting efforts started last year.
A CHP budget report showed that since 2015, the number of applications has plummeted from a high of about 20,000 a year, down to about 13,000 applicants. Many in the applicant pool often do not have a high school diploma, or pass the background checks and tests necessary to enter the CHP academy.
Capt. Carlton says one reason for the shortage is due to the pandemic.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, our academy had to be shut down for public safety reasons. Because of that, we still had people naturally retiring, so now we're in a position where we're trying to catch up with that attrition," said Capt. Carlton.
Officer Benjamin Mueller is among the recent graduates.
"I just finished my first week out on the road doing my training in the real world," said Officer Mueller.
He said he learned a lot at the CHP Academy.
"Dropped everything and went to Sacramento for 6.5 months," said Officer Mueller, "It pushed my patience in a lot of ways. It tested my resiliency. You're put in a room with two other strangers you've never met, and you're forced into a room about the size of this patrol car. You're living on top of each other. Your locker won't even open unless it closes your neighbor's locker, so you're constantly forced to work with the people around you."
The CHP has about 350 cadets in the pipeline but needs many more to keep staffing levels up.
Adding to the problem is competition for candidates, as other law enforcement agencies nationwide face similar recruitment challenges.
That can mean pressure to offer competitive pay.
This November, state released a California Highway Patrol Survey. It found the compensation for CHP Officers was 7.9% below the weighted average of police in San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, LA, and the LA Sheriff's departments.
That prompted the state to bump up CHP salaries.
"Currently, a starting officer's salary is about $110,000 a year with a 5% raise per year until they reach their 5th year, which would yield about $140,000 a year in their salary," said Capt. Carlton.
Pay isn't the only priority, though, in the push to recruit.
"The Highway Patrol is trying to reach people that never considered a career in law enforcement," said Capt. Carlton.
That means outreach to more women, minorities, and people without family connections to law enforcement, such as Officer Mueller.
"No family in law enforcement or the highway patrol. I'm the first," said Officer Mueller.
"Our goal as the Highway Patrol is to represent a diverse workforce that represents the communities that we serve," said Capt. Carlton.
Jana Katsuyama is a reporter for KTVU. Email Jana at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-326-5529. Or follow her on Twitter @JanaKTVU.