LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — With 172 police officer vacancies, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officials look to its cadet program to mold the next generation of officers.

Nationwide, police departments are experiencing officer shortages for various reasons, including continuing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, issues regarding the public image of police departments, and difficulty finding qualified candidates to replace a retiring workforce, reports indicate.

Closer to home, LVMPD officials say anyone 18 years and older with a high school diploma or GED is eligible for the department’s cadet program. Individuals must pass written and fitness exams and have a valid Nevada driver’s license to apply. 

Karissma Rodriguez, 19, already has a year under her belt as a cadet.

“I always loved the impact law enforcement has on the community,” Rodriguez said, adding that her desire to enter the force reaches back to her days as a teenager.

“It lays a foundation to a successful career,” Rodriguez said of the 3-year cadet program, which allows applicants to learn about law enforcement while making money.

Cadets respond to stolen car reports, burglaries, and fingerprinting when needed, Rodriguez said, noting that the calls do not include contact with suspects.

Michelle Funes, a 16-year LVMPD officer, got her start as a cadet. She said that a cadet will respond to “low-priority calls, so citizens don’t wait for hours.” The program allows officers to respond to high-priority calls and helps to improve officers’ response time.

“The program is the best way to mold the future of our department,” Funes said. “We get our cadets at 18 and teach them everything, how our department works, the laws, and get sthem well rounded about law enforcement.

The next round of exams is Oct. 14, 17, and 18.

According to the online cadet application, the starting salary is approximately $42,000, with the possibility of a 4% merit increase after six months. Cadets also qualify for health and retirement benefits.

Applications and other openings are on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s website.