An article in Thursday's Metro section said the Montgomery County police department is not accepting new applications. A police spokesman said the curtailment applies only to the January police academy class. (Published 12/15/90)

After years of scrambling to find home-grown recruits, law enforcement officials say the region's economic slowdown has resulted in a deluge of well-qualified applicants at a time when many jurisdictions are imposing hiring freezes and recruitment cutbacks.

"We have done some out-of-town recruitment, but it's not really necessary," said Assistant Police Chief Addison Davis, head of the District police department's training and recruitment division. "We're getting plenty of applicants from the metropolitan area." Police recruiters in suburban Virginia say their application rates are holding steady, but their counterparts in Maryland and the District say the impact of the downturn in the economy is beginning to show up in their mailboxes and at their personnel offices:

On a Saturday in October, 1,300 job-seekers -- more than double the monthly average -- streamed through Ballou High School to take a screening exam for the D.C. police force.

The Montgomery County Police Department recently received more than 800 applications for 50 slots in next month's police academy class. Overwhelmed by the response, recruiters have stopped accepting new applications.

In Anne Arundel County, police recruiters have seen a surge in inquiries for civilian support positions. And, in at least one case there, an office manager at a computer company, worried about layoffs, accepted a job -- and a $5,000 pay cut -- as a police radio dispatcher.

"I'm expecting to see a wide variety of {applicants}, just listening to the large number of people being laid off in different occupations," said Cpl. Wendy Maris, a recruiter for the Alexandria Police Department. Some of the increase in job applicants is attributable to stepped-up recruitment efforts, particularly for minority and bilingual officers, in many jurisdictions. But several recruiters cite the area's slumping economy as a strong factor in the large number of applications.

"My gut feeling is {that} it's the economy," said Lt. Ginette Krantz, of the Prince George's Police Department. In the last year, applications have risen 62 percent, from 3,515 to 5,686, she said. "Historically, the trend is when times are tough, we receive a larger number of inquiries," said Maryland State Police Maj. Morris Krome, assistant chief of the personnel services bureau. "People who ordinarily might not consider law enforcement options broaden their horizon."

But many area police agencies probably won't be able to take advantage of the applicant bonanza because of budget constraints.

Just a few years ago, police recruiters were scrambling to find qualified candidates to fill vacancies caused by department expansions and a large number of retirements.

At that time, unemployment was low and competition for workers was keen from the government and private sector. Several local police departments intensified their recruitment efforts, expanding their searches to cities and small towns in the Southeast and Midwest.

Today, the area's jobless rate has climbed to its highest level in more than 3 1/2 years, and businesses are announcing layoffs and hiring freezes daily.

But the crunch has extended to local governments in the Washington region as well.

The economic slump, recruiters say, has given them a wider pool of applicants to choose from. Though the majority of job-seekers plan long-term careers in law enforcement, an increasing number are coming from the ranks of recently laid-off office and managerial workers, recruiters said.

"We have seen a number of candidates who are highly educated, have been laid off or have relocated from other areas," said Marie LaRocca, director of personnel for the Montgomery County Police Department.

The huge turnout in October at Ballou High School surprised District police officials.

"With very little advertising, we've been able to keep a steady stream of applicants," Davis said. An average of 500 to 600 applicants have shown up for the monthly walk-in exams at the Southeast Washington school, he said. Some workers are not waiting for pink slips to switch jobs, said Sue Daily, coordinator of recruitment for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

Recently, Daily said, she interviewed a computer company office manager for a police radio dispatcher position. Daily said the applicant was interested in a career change because she perceived law enforcement as a field with greater job security.

"She came very highly recommended when we checked her references," Daily said. Not only did the woman accept the dispatcher job, but she also agreed to a substantial pay cut, Daily said. Salaries for entry-level radio communications operators in Anne Arundel County range from $20,687 to $25,837, a personnel official said.

With an abundance of qualified applicants, recruiters report few vacancies in upcoming police officer academy classes. Davis said the District starts a new recruit class every two weeks, and runs two shifts at the academy to accommodate the training schedule.

Several suburban police agencies report mounting backlogs of applications. In Howard County, for example, about 300 applications sit in office cabinets, said Gwen West, of the County Personnel Office.