Tom Smart, Deseret News
Cadets Shahid Janjua, left, Nick Swenson and Daniel Avilez practice "clearing" Joel P. Jensen Middle School during a police training session.

ST. GEORGE — It's a sign of the bad economic times we live in — more people are rushing to sign up for a job that is, for the most part, recession-proof.

A record number of people have enrolled in Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training academies across the state. POST, the agency that certifies and disciplines police officers, said 224 cadets were trained in 2008.

"There's a significant number of people," said Jack Rickards, the director of Weber State University's police academy.

Typically, Rickards said, he has about 20 cadets enrolled in his academy. When the next session starts in April, he will have about 50.

The trouble is, there are still not a lot of jobs out there.

"The number of applications have increased significantly," said Davis County Sheriff Bud Cox. "We're not increasing our manpower, but more people are applying."

Some police agencies, particularly in rural areas, are still hiring — just not at the rate they used to. Rickards said one police chief offered a $4,600 signing bonus for cadets willing to move to eastern Utah.

POST executive director Scott Stephenson predicts that the number of cadets coming into the academy sponsored by law enforcement agencies will decrease in 2009, but the number of self-sponsored cadets going through satellite academies like Weber State may still increase.

"What we hope to see happening is, as the economy gets better, the agencies will start to fill the positions," Rickards said.

He said federal stimulus money for law enforcement may also help hire more officers. While that is good news, Stephenson worries that some people are not enrolling in POST for the right reasons.

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"Oftentimes, officers will get in the position because they don't want to get a degree. They want job security, but they don't understand the rigors of the profession," he said Monday.

Attrition typically weeds them out of the academy. Last year, 27 people dropped out for various reasons.

For those who make it through the academies, they will appear more marketable to police agencies that are hiring.

"Law enforcement's salaries haven't really decreased, so they're decent. And there's stability," Cox said. "It has to look very enticing. The other higher-paying jobs just aren't there anymore."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com