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BLOOMINGTON - Filling the ranks in the Bloomington Police Department will be a struggle because of the limited spots in training and the year-long hiring process, a city official said.

Police Chief Roger Aikin addressed the Bloomington City Council Monday over concerns that recent changes in the budget to cover the anticipated loss at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum will result in officers not being hired.

Also discussed was a request from the council to see plans on how to raise the number of officers in the department to meet the national average.

Aikin said the $256,000 the department returned to the current budget to cover the first-year costs of three officers likely would not be spent this year.

"The important thing to remember is we are not delaying the hiring of three officers," Aikin said. "We have to get back up to current staff levels before we can hire the additional officers and it's just going to take time to do that."

Mayor Steve Stockton asked for Aikin to clarify the training process and the department's current staffing because Stockton said there is a perception paying for the Coliseum is taking officers off the streets.

Last year, the department was authorized to have 129 police officers. With retirements and resignations, the department is down to 123, Aikin said. With the number of people on the hiring list and the slots available in training, Aikin said the department would be lucky to get the number of officers back to 129 before the end of the fiscal year in April 2008.

"We try to forecast retirements, but there are factors we cannot anticipate," Aikin said. He used an example of an officer who resigned last week and could give one-shift notice because he was hired by the FBI and had to report to training in a matter of days. The last time the department was at full force was May 2005.

During the discussion, Stockton also pressed Aikin about how many police officers Bloomington should have. Aikin said the national standard for Midwestern cities is about 21 officers per 10,000 residents. Ideally, the department would need about 157 officers. The first-year cost for one officer, including salary, benefits, training, weapons, bulletproof vest and other equipment, is about $81,000.

But Aikin continued in his answer to Stockton, saying getting the department up to 157 officers would be difficult.

"I would love to have 200 officers and I know I could find something for everyone of them to do," Aikin said. "But the reality is we can't get that many trained at a time."

The department tries to hire experienced officers, cutting training time in half, but Aikin said the current policy is to keep the number of experienced officers hired equal to the number of new officers hired.

One change pending before the city's fire and police commission is having testing every year to expand the pool of candidates instead of every two years. That change must be approved by the commission.

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