GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As a deputy shortage continues across West Michigan, multiple sheriffs told News 8 that a major cause is a declining number of recruits.  

Several police academies in our area are seeing a drop-off in applications, making it even more difficult for law enforcement to fill open positions. 

Last year, 21 cadets enrolled at the police academy at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek.  

This year? Only 11.

“We don’t have enough people enrolling in police academies,” Robert Miller, the director of public safety education at KCC, said. “And because of the demand, departments are seeking out applicants and paying them to go to a regional academy.” 

Those academies include the Kalamazoo Law Enforcement Training Center, led by Victor Ledbetter. It’s a full-time program that cadets complete faster than normal, within four months. Before most recruits start, they’re already sponsored by law enforcement agencies that they will join after graduation. 

“It’s hard and difficult for me when people who are recruiting say, ‘Hey, I’d like to come down and recruit,’” Ledbetter said. “I say, ‘Unfortunately for you, I don’t have anyone for you to recruit, everyone has a job.’ And they’re like, ‘Wow.’” 

Because bigger departments sponsor cadets more often, it’s even more difficult for smaller agencies to hire officers, according to multiple local sheriffs News 8 spoke with.

The shortages are raising concerns about the future of law enforcement. 

“If we don’t have police that are able to fill these positions, who are we going to have to resort to?” Miller said. “Are we going to have to resort to the National Guard? I could see smaller departments having to merge with a sheriff’s department in a bigger city and become one department.” 

Miller is considering launching a faster program in the future at Kellogg Community College in response to the lower recruitment numbers.  

The director of the part-time police academy at Grand Rapids Community College, Dave Kok, told News 8 they saw 50 to 60 applicants a year from 2016 to 2021, but that number dropped “significantly” in 2022. He said he believes the numbers “are going to swing around.”  

The Kalamazoo center already has a waitlist for next year. The 16 week program goes five days a week. Cadets start at 6:30 a.m. and wrap up at 5 p.m. each day. The recruits range from 21 to 52 years old. 

One cadet there is sponsored by a law enforcement agency eight hours away. He came to Kalamazoo specifically for this program and because of Ledbetter’s work to increase diversity in law enforcement. 

Still, despite Ledbetter’s efforts, creating diversity remains a major challenge. 

“I’ve been here since 2018 and I have not graduated one Black female,” Ledbetter said. “As a matter of fact, I haven’t had one Black female apply.” 

I’ve spent a lot of time talking with people in barber shops, churches, events, cookouts, trying to tell them how noble this is of a profession,” Ledbetter said. “And how they can come inside and change it from the inside out. But it’s fallen on deaf ears. So it’s really a struggle to get minorities in this profession.”