Columbia's police department soon will be at full staffing for the first time in a decade - the result of an aggressive campaign to find more officers, Chief Tandy Carter said Friday.
While the rest of the city was laying off workers and buying out employees close to retirement, Carter was holding job fairs and begging people to come work for him. The department has even hired a full-time recruiter to seek more police.
Now, the department has reached its goal of 100 percent staffing, the city said in a news release Friday.
"We always believe more officers makes a safer Columbia," police department spokesman Brick Lewis said.
The city's efforts resulted from a commitment by City Council to make law enforcement a priority in the wake of belt-tightening in the rest of city government. Federal grant money also has helped.
Last year, an independent panel gave the department a scathing review that accused it of underreporting crime, incompetent leaders and inadequate salaries and benefits - all of which likely affected the city's ability to recruit and retain officers.
Bob Amundson, a Rosewood neighborhood community leader, said more officers on the street will make potential criminals think twice about breaking the law.
"People behave themselves when they see the police around," he said. "They're less likely to behave if they don't think anybody is driving around to see what they are doing."
Once the city hires an extra 15 officers, paid for by a federal grant, Columbia will have 375 officers on the streets. The city has already hired three officers through the grant. Carter said the milestone is a "major accomplishment" for his law enforcement agency.
The return to full staffing is encouraging, but Carter says he'll continue to seek more funds and more officers to bolster Columbia's police force.
In February, Carter asked City Council to add 94 police officers as part of his goal to cut Columbia's crime rates in half by 2013.