La Habra PD offers bonus to entice experienced officers to join the force

By Elysse James

The La Habra Police Department is hiring, and is offering a $10,000 bonus to experienced officers in California who join the agency.

The bonus helps La Habra compete with larger agencies when prospective hires might not realize the benefits of working at a smaller agency, such as developing a strong relationship with the community, training in different types of police work due to the “all hands on deck” mentality when bigger incidents arise, and the ability to rotate through special assignments.

“Even though we’re a small town, we still remain very busy here,” Cpl. Paul McPhillips said. “So, if you want to go out and do police work and take bad guys to jail, you can do that.”

Cpl. Paul McPhillips leads a tour of La Habra’s police headquarters during the department’s open house.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

La Habra officers have a plethora of special assignments from which to choose, including the SWAT team, canine officer, general investigations detective, special investigations detective, school resource officer, motor officer, commercial enforcement officer, regional detective task force assignments, and, of course, Professional Standards assignments. Officers can apply for those opportunities within one to three years of joining the La Habra Police Department, depending on the assignment and their years of previous experience.

“People believe that a smaller agency means it’s hard to move around, to go to a specialized assignment, and to get on the SWAT team, and it’s not that way,” McPhillips said. “There are guys that have only been here four or five years that are on (the North County SWAT team) and they’re getting all the advanced training in that they can.”

La Habra also issues individual gear, instead of using an equipment pool. For example, each officer is issued their own rifle, ballistic helmet, ballistic plate carrier, tourniquets, optional handgun, radio, Taser, and body camera. Every five years, the department updates its soft body armor at no cost to the employees.

The department covers the cost of officers’ uniforms, vests, and gun belts. In addition, the department is currently in the process of switching its patrol fleet to explorers, adding ballistic panels to the patrol car doors, upgrading the radio systems and in-car computers, and deploying automated license plate readers in select cars. Officers also have access to ballistic shields and 40mm less-lethal launchers.

Experienced officers can receive about 16 weeks of training that includes time to learn the city, a stint working in the traffic unit, and time in investigations The amount of training is based on the lateral officer’s experience level.

Another benefit of working at the La Habra PD, McPhillips said, is that, “You get to know the people in the community, first off, because it’s a smaller community.”

“The police department holds Coffee with a Cop every other month so the community and the police can get to know each other better. Being a small city, police department employees also get to know the city employees, the city manager, and councilmembers as part of their daily duties,” Lt. Mel Ruiz said.

The La Habra Police Department enjoys heavy support from its community, city council, and city manager, department officials said.

Officers in La Habra interact with the captains and Chief Jerry Price regularly.

“They’re walking around saying ‘hi’ to everyone, checking out and seeing how things are going, and inquiring about issues that are going on,” McPhillips said. “A lot of phone calls go straight into the captains and into the chief.”

In addition, La Habra officers work on a four-month rotation, which means officers bid for the schedules that work best for them from the seven different shifts: two day shift options, two swing shift options, two graveyard shift options, and one hybrid shift. The hybrid employees work a day shift, followed by a swing shift, then a graveyard shift. Three of the seven shifts allow patrol officers to have weekends off.

La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price. File photo by Miguel Vansconcellos/Behind the Badge OC

“With the hybrid shift, you come off Friday morning and you don’t come back until Tuesday morning,” McPhillips said. “If you’re the type of guy that hates the heat during the summer, you can bid for the graveyards during the summer time.”

McPhillips reviews applications daily. The department has seen a large increase in submissions since switching to an online application system in July, the same month the La Habra City Council approved the bonus.

The hiring process for a lateral hire consists of an interview with the Professional Standards unit, a polygraph, a complete background, medical and psychological exams, and an oral interview with the chief. Applicants must pass all the phases, and backgrounds can be completed in as little as two months.

Experienced officers who join the La Habra PD will receive half of the bonus in their first paycheck and the remaining $5,000 after they pass the one-year probation period.

“That’s a good chunk of change for people,” McPhillips said.

Prospective applicants can apply on the La Habra Police Department website, or through governmentjobs.com.