By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

A new approach to hiring from a new police chief rescued the Belton Police Department from the brink of an officer shortage in 2009.

The officers produced through the new process hit the streets with fresh feet in February.

Belton Police Chief Gene Ellis expected hiring officers would be a challenge when he was hired in April 2009. Ellis decided by May that the hiring process had to change.

After sudden departures had stripped the small department of several officers, Belton conducted a hiring test in May.

The first test of Ellis' tenure yielded nine certified applicants, hardly enough for even the least stringent of police departments to find one officer.

Belton police hired none of the applicants, as background checks weeded out the three best candidates, Ellis said.

Stunned by the lack of applicants, Ellis proposed to the city council a program that would hire and pay non-certified applicants a $30,000 salary while they became certified peace officers.

A cadet program, similar to programs used by Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove and Temple, was born.

"When you look at law enforcement recruiting, you need a large applicant pool to get a good, qualified applicant," Ellis said. "My belief is you need at least 25 applicants for every one position."

Belton police exceeded the 25-to-1 ratio when the first cadet test was conducted and 185 candidates applied for five slots.

The police officer calling hooked Jackie Holmes in 1994 when he attended a criminal justice course while in the Army.

"The procedures they do, the crimes they solve and the positive impact of the things they do in the neighborhood" inspired him, Holmes said.

Wanting to be an officer instead of a number, the retired staff sergeant said he sought a small community police department.

Holmes realized his dream in part because of the cadet program.

"It made Belton even more attractive," Holmes said Wednesday.

Holmes graduated with Daniel Aguirre, Kenneth Haase, Jeffrey Lerom and John Londrie from the Central Texas College academy in February.

They became the first five officers to graduate BPD's cadet program.

The department boosted the salaries of Holmes and others to $35,000 when they graduated. Should the officers leave within the first four years, they must repay a pro-rated portion of training costs, approximately $7,800.

Ellis believes the cadet program builds a bond between Belton and the officers.

Ellis hopes the bond keeps officers from bouncing between cities.

Only time will tell if the officers stick, Ellis said.

Contact Victor O'Brien at or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.

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