Twenty-five new police officers completed a rigorous training program at the Ben Clark Training Center and graduated from the Riverside Sheriff’s Department Basic Peace Officer Training Academy. Only one, Cory Zimmerman, will join the Sheriff’s Department and could be part of a new wave of deputies that will increase staffing at Hemet Station. Other graduates will join CAL FIRE, the Corona Police Department and the University of California, Riverside, Police Department.

“Help is on the way,” said Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff, noting that more deputies are in the pipeline for graduation in the next 12 months. Sniff estimates about 25 for the January graduating class and 50 to 60 in the graduating class six months later.

Recruiting, hiring, and training men and women qualified to be a deputy sheriff is not simple, Sniff has said many times.

The last time the Sheriff’s Department was recruiting, only 94 out of more than 30,000 applicants were selected.

The most recent training session began in July. About 32 trainees wanted to join the sheriff’s department. After about a month of training, attrition has reduced the potential new deputies to 25, Sniff said.

Since 2008, as the recession deepened, reduced county revenues forced cuts in Sheriff’s Department patrol personnel. As a result, staffing in the unincorporated areas declined from a peak of 1.2 deputies per 1,000 residents in the unincorporated areas of the county, including the Hill, to .9, and this year to .75 deputies per thousand. Community policing, where deputies were stationed for 6-month periods on the Hill, as well as having two patrol cars on the Hill at all times, were eliminated through budget cuts.

Sniff hopes, with increased graduation rates from the academy and increased budget authorizations already approved by the board of supervisors, that staffing in the unincorporated areas will return to previous peaks within 12 to 18 months.

The ceremony held Thursday, Aug. 23, at Grove Community Church in Riverside honored graduates who had completed 952 hours of training, 14 scenario tests and 26 written exams over a period of 24 weeks. The basic training course is designed to meet the minimum requirements of a peace officer as established by the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.