NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — It is no secret the job of a police officer comes with plenty of risks.
Lieutenant Bruce Barnes with the Noblesville Police Department says the job also comes with plenty of rewards. That's why he hopes more Hoosiers will consider joining his agency.
"We enjoy the job that we do," Barnes said. "We love the job that we do."
Right now, the department of about 100 officers protects the Noblesville community day and night. Staffing the streets, though, can mean officers are working harder and longer shifts, with fewer new officers coming through the door.
Sergeant April Kline has worked for Noblesville Police for 12 years.
"I work nightshift now, so we work 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.," Kline said.
Kline said she has noticed improvements in recruiting in recent years, despite the nationwide challenge.
"Recruiting for this profession, in general, has definitely been challenging," Kline said.
Barnes said the recent adjustments already underway are still not enough.
"We are looking at, right now, everything that's happening, and what it is that we can do maybe to adapt and adjust," Barnes said.
Some of those changes now include a focus on hiring more female officers.
"I think it represents our community better, because obviously our community is made up of both male and female," Kline said.
"On a national level, it is right around 12-14% of an agency will be comprised of females," Barnes said. "That is no difference here at the Noblesville Police Department."
Barnes said of the 96 officers employed at the Noblesville Police Department, only eight are female.
That's why the department has signed the nationwide 30x30 Pledge, which commits 30% of the department to be comprised of female officers by the year 2030.
"We actually have, for the first time ever, a third of our shift is made up of females, which is pretty awesome," Kline said. "As far as the 30x30 goes, we are there on our shift."
Other changes at the department include ditching old ways of thinking about the little things, such as tattoos.
"Tattoos for the longest time were forbidden," Barnes said. "You could not wear a visible tattoo."
A new policy for NPD allows officers to have tattoos, except on the face, neck and hands, according to Barnes.
Another change at the department allows beards for male officers, which also used to be prohibited.
"Our agency decided that maybe it's time that we adopt a policy that allows for beards to come, again, not without restrictions," Barnes said.
"It's just one of those things that maybe 10 years ago or 20 years ago, we never thought would be an issue that we would have to contend with, but if it means opening up more opportunities or casting a larger net, that's what we'll do at this point," Barnes added.
Leaders at NPD made it clear that loosening a few restrictions does not mean lessening the expectations of a potential officer.
"We need the communities to know that we're not necessarily lowering our standards in order to get more people in," Barnes said. "We have a shortage of applicants. We don't have a shortage of officers that are out on the street."
That means current officers will pick up overtime to fill in the gaps in the department.
"There was a time and a day where we would expect an officer to spend 20 years with an agency," Barnes said. "It's different now."
Law enforcement leaders say there are several reasons why citizens are less interested in joining or staying in policing.
"The reality is, this job does not come without risk," Barnes said.
Barnes said the biggest recruiting challenge can often be the job itself.
"We have to be right 100% of the time, and that, in and of itself, is a very daunting task," Barnes said. "A lot of the decisions and the work that we do, it's tense. It's uncertain, and it's rapidly evolving."
The state of Indiana can hire new officers between 21 and 39 years old, with a few exceptions.
The state also has some hiring requirements that will not change locally, including the physical fitness assessment, written examinations, and a background investigation.
Despite the risk of the job, these officers say putting on the badge often comes with great reward.
"That is a sense of pride that very few jobs come with," Barnes said. "I can't begin to tell you what that is like, to be able to carry that with you."
"After 12 years of doing this job, to be able to say that I still love my job, and I'm still excited to come to work every day is pretty huge," Kline said.
Kline credits the Noblesville Police Department for preparing her for the reality of policing and giving her the confidence to do the job.
"Obviously, when you first get into it, you might be a little nervous, feeling like, 'I don't know what a police officer does,' but by the time you are done and you hit the road, you're totally prepared to do what you need to do," Kline said.
Barnes says the training process for new officers is detailed, with 16 weeks at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. After graduation from the academy, recruits have four to six weeks of additional, local training, followed by 16 weeks of field training.
"For 16 weeks, they are riding with a veteran officer learning how to do the job," Barnes said.
Barnes said that realistic training can be crucial for preparing officers.
"We think we're doing a pretty darn good job of that here," Barnes said, "and we hope that's enough to encourage people to have trust and faith in us that if you come on our department, we'll provide that to you. If you doubt it, come on in now. We'll be more than happy to show that to you."
The Noblesville Police Department encourages anyone interested in learning more about policing to stop by the department or reach out via social media.
NPD is also offering a free Citizens Police Academy this fall.
Barnes also encourages residents to say hello to officers in the community and ask them to share a story about their experience working for the Noblesville Police Department.