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Sterling police department fully staffed for the first time in twenty years

Sterling now has a fully staffed police department for the first time in two decades.

STERLING, Illinois -- Sterling's police department is now fully staffed for the first time in two decades.

"(Police officer shortages are) not an issue unique to Sterling Police Department," Chief Tim Morgan says. "Everywhere is short-staffed."

A full staff at the department is 29 police officers. Just over a year ago, the department had nearly 10 officers less than that. That shortage primarily affected the department's patrol division -- the largest function at the department.

Chief Morgan says he owes the increase in officers to more recruiting at local universities and a city-wide salary increase in recent years, along with trained officers moving into the area.

"Public service isn't in the front of everyone's mind nowadays," Chief Morgan says. "Being a police officer, there are challenges and it's not easy. The pay isn't great and the hours are long so you have to find the right person."

Finding the right person can be difficult with fewer people applying for the job, he adds.

"When I tested (more than 20 years ago), there was only one vacancy and 110 people tested," Chief Morgan says. "Now, we're ecstatic if we get 20 people to test."

Chief Morgan says that the shortage was mostly attributed to officers leaving the department to "broaden their horizons," at bigger police departments in Chicago and the suburbs, along with state and federal agencies.

The lower number of applicants is something both Chief Morgan and Officer Clay Hadley owe to a changing field, with higher levels of media scrutiny following recent police-involved shootings and murders. 

"They make the job not seem as prestigious as it used to be," Officer Hadley says.

"There's some police officers who've made horrible mistakes, and it reflects on the profession, not just the person or the department," Chief Morgan says.

Chief Morgan emphasizes the importance of building social equity with the community, building trust and relationships.

"I want 90 percent positive police contact," he says. "Do something to foster a relationship with the public."

Officer Hadley recognized that even though it isn't completely possible for the community and police to always see eye-to-eye, he too wants a positive relationship there.

A Bureau of Justice survey found that the number of police officers across the country mostly increased over the last 20 years, with a dip in numbers between 2013 and 2016.