FORT SMITH (KFSM)-- Fort Smith police have hired 13 new officers and are looking to hire even more in efforts to fully staff the department.
The newly hired officers are training at the police academy and will graduate on April 20.
"This is a great step in the right direction for this department," Officer Luis Gomez said. "It's a pretty big deal."
After those in the academy graduate, the force will have 144 officers, but the department isn't stopping there.
"We are in the hiring process right now," Cpl. Anthony Rice said. "We are trying to hire twenty more. If we can get twenty qualified applicants that can make it through the training, make it through the program, that'll push us up to the authorized strength to put us at 100%, which is a big deal for the Fort Smith Police Department."
This means more officers will be on the streets, which will not only help keep police safe, but citizens, too.
"It's going to make a huge difference, not only in the patrol division, but other divisions," Cpl. Rice said.
With the officer shortage decreasing in the coming months, officers said it will help all aspects of what they do as well.
"Sometimes we go to call that two or three officers are needed and it's just one," Gomez said. "So, that helps every other officer to have that extra body to be with them to help each other out, to protect each other and obviously to protect the citizens of this town."
Many departments around the country are short on officers, not just Fort Smith. Gomez said he loves what he does and hopes other potential applicants will see the difference the department makes and want to join in, too.
"Every day is a new start, there's never the same day that you repeat," Gomez said. "New people, new faces that you meet, new faces that you try to help as much as you can."
After the officers in the academy graduate on April 20, they will spend 13 more weeks training until they're alone on patrol.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors has authorized pay raises and new equipment for officers and the department is hoping that will also help with recruiting.
The department recently incorporated a Recruiting Team made up of two male officers and a female officer.
The FBI still recommends the department have 193 officers for a city the size of Fort Smith.
Right now, the Fort Smith Board of Directors allows 164 officers.