By City News Service
The county's chief probation officer Tuesday highlighted a new online campaign to recruit hundreds of probation officers and support personnel.
"It is essential that we let the public know that yes, we are hiring, but we are seeking only the most ethical, qualified candidates who can meet the highest standards of this administration," Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers said.
The Probation Department has struggled to hire 363 new officers into the most critical positions, filling just under two-thirds of those key open spots. The two positions advertised, for deputy probation officers in the field and at residential treatment centers, pay from $54,000 to $75,000 a year.
The department has more than 1,100 open jobs overall.
Sixty percent of applicants fail initial exams, while another 30 percent fail polygraph tests and background investigations, Powers said.
Background investigations for candidates include questioning neighbors and friends and checks of local, state and federal records and social media sites. Applicants also undergo medical and psychological exams to qualify for positions.
The new campaign, called "Probation's Most Wanted -- The Best of the Best," includes probation officers telling their stories in videos and online via Twitter and Facebook.
State law that shifted responsibility for supervising probationers from state parole officers to county agencies in October 2011 has generated much of the need for new hires.
Despite the difficulties in finding good candidates, Powers is also tightening hiring guidelines and taking a tougher line with existing employees. There is zero tolerance for the use of illegal drugs, misdemeanor convictions and acts of violence. Powers said the department discharged about twice as many employees in 2013 as compared with the previous two years.
Standards loosened during a move to expand the department in 2005-2008 resulted in lots of bad hires, he said.
During Powers' two-year tenure, 135 probation employees were arrested. Of those, 64 had been hired between 2005 and 2008, he said.
"I don't think it serves the department or the county well to go and do short cuts when you're hiring peace officers," Powers said.
Instead, the department is reaching out to a new pool of candidates with backgrounds in social work and psychology, rather than traditional corrections experience.
"It's not about the badge," said Probation Department spokeswoman Carol Lin.
Hiring managers are also working with four-year universities to connect with students majoring in relevant disciplines, opening up an entirely new pool of future candidates. They are working with Cal State Los Angeles to develop a curriculum and service learning program that would prepare students for work as probation officers.
"It's beyond an internship," Lin said. "It is a mentoring program."
The department's campaign can be viewed at www.probation.lacounty.gov.