In a challenging recruitment environment, Tustin police have an edge

By Bradley Zint

Finding good police officers is a challenge in Orange County cities, and the Tustin Police Department is no exception.

When fully staffed, the department has just under 100 sworn personnel. Currently, the department is looking for a number of reliable people to start the ranks in patrol, but Tustin is finding itself competing with other departments throughout the southland for talent.

Recruit applicants gather at 7 a.m. for a police academy agility test given by the Tustin Police Department at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Everyone is looking for the same people,” said Lt. Robert Wright of Tustin Police Department’s Professional Standards Division. “You’re all trying to get the same commodity. Your competition is pretty stiff.”

Recently, Tustin police added a little something that will make recruiting easier and faster. It could even make the department the envy of others in O.C.

Installed within a grassy strip between the tennis courts and a baseball field at the Tustin Sports Park is a physical agility wall.

Scaling the wall — which is 6 feet high and about 5 feet wide — is one part of a physical training test that applicants face.

Jacob Casalou of La Mirada leaps over a new two-sided 6-foot wall that is solid on one side and a chain-link fence on the other, as Tustin Det. Colton Kirwan watches during a police academy agility test at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Sgt. Sean Whiteley said Tustin having its own scaling wall is very beneficial because, while other aspects of the department’s recruitment process can be done anyplace, the only other scaling walls around are at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy in Tustin and at Golden West College in Huntington Beach — and those have to essentially be reserved in advance.

“This means we can do physical ability testing whenever we want,” Whiteley said. “It’s good for everybody.”

Sid Vega of Tustin drags a regulation 165-pound dummy (modified with an additional 15 pounds) down a baseball diamond as part of a police academy agility test.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

On a recent Saturday morning, applicants at Tustin Sports Park took their physical ability tests and did one-on-one interviews. Though many of the applicants were brand new, some were already in the academy or were laterals trying to transfer into Tustin from other police departments. In addition to scaling the wall — one face is a chain-link fence and the other is of composite wood — the applicants completed a 500-yard run, 99-yard obstacle course, and dragged a 165-pound dummy.

Whiteley, a nearly 20-year Tustin police veteran, was among the team overseeing the recruitment event. He noted that moving the dummy simulates what it would be like to have a victim, or partner, down who needs to be taken to safety, particularly if that partner were unconscious or otherwise unable to move.

Recruit applicants make their way over a 6-foot wall at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Whitely also showed how the scaling wall has a decomposed granite path leading up to both faces, which gives a pathway for a running start to scale the wall. The ground immediately next to the wall is made of shredded tires; the softer surface helps eliminate the chance of injury.

He credited Tustin city staff, particularly public works and field service employees, with getting the wall up and the decomposed granite path installed.

Nick Morrow of Irvine climbs over a new 6-foot wall that is solid on one side and a chain-link fence on the other during a police academy agility test at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“It’s amazing leadership from those two groups,” Whiteley said.

The one-on-one interviews include basic oral interview questions and generally will include a hypothetical scenario. Whiteley noted that interview questions are derived from scenarios officers may see, such as if they witness a colleague doing excessive force. Would they report it?

“We can see their thought process,” Whiteley said.

Recruit applicants start a timed 500-yard run at Tustin Sports Park administered by the Tustin Police Department that is part of a police academy agility test.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

If applicants pass the physical exam, written test, and oral interviews, the department will start the background checks.

Tustin prides itself on a high level of community engagement, where individual officers can make a difference on quality-of-life issues.

Police work has evolved over the years.  While the profession still has crime fighting at its core, the concept of problem solving rather than simply enforcement is what is expected of police officers today.

Terrance Whyte of Anaheim makes it over the 6-foot wall during during the Tustin Police Department’s agility test at Tustin Sports Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“If you see a problem and can take care of it, we expect you to do it,” Whiteley said. “We want our new recruits to understand that.”

While recruiting the ideal applicant will always be a challenge, having resources such as Tustin’s new physical agility course equipment will help make that job a bit easier.

Tustin Det. Colton Kirwan gathers recruit applicants in front of the new 6-foot, two-sided climbing wall at Tustin Sports Park. The wall is available at the sports park for anyone to practice on.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC