COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Another Columbus Police Department recruiting class is about to start its 12-week academy.

But there is something a little different about this class. The difference? Increased numbers of recruits starting the class.

As the number of Columbus Police officers on the street has been shrinking, there is increased pressure to get more recruits into training.

And this is a start.

The Columbus Police Department recruited what is believed to be its largest Police Academy class in more than 15 years.

“I have not seen a class this large since 2004 or about,” said Lt. Tim Wynn, who oversees the training.

And it’s bigger by design and necessity.

“Once we started looking at our process and started figuring out ways to streamline these different hiring process steps, we were able to gain efficiencies that allowed us to achieve our goal,” said Sgt. Stefan Shelling, who works in the recruiting department.

And that goal was aggressive. Interim Police Chief Stoney Mathis, who came on board in mid-May, told recruiters he wanted at least 30 for the September class.

He got 33, though one resigned in the last week. And he got the department to think differently about how it attracted new talent.

“We had to get out of the old days of sitting behind the desk and waiting for them to come to us. We can no longer wait for the applicants to come to us,” said Officer Andrew Phillips.

Phillips spent much of his career in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. He is a patrol officer who was pulled in to help recruit. About a third of this class has prior military experience.

“We have to go out to them through social media, through job fairs,” he said. “But we have to actually go out there, make that personal connection with them, and then once we have them on the hook, is keep them on the hook by reinforcing what they can do for their community.”

And those responsible for training these recruits are pleased the numbers are rising.

“I am excited to see the numbers,” said Sgt.June Reeves. “At one point we had a class with just six people, so I’m very excited, very encouraged to see the numbers go up. see a lot of promise.”

Increasing the number of recruits is the only way that the department is going to make a dent in a shortage that is well over 100 officers.

Sgt. Tim Wynn has 35 years – a large portion of that time training officers — on the force and he likes what he sees.

“I see a lot of promise. It’s a breath of fresh air dealing with officers that want to do this job and that’s the biggest part,” Wynn said. “This is not a job. This is a calling. It’s not something that if you’re coming into this career, looking at it as a job, you’re probably not going to stay very long.”

All of these candidates have passed physical and psychological testing. Now, they must complete the academy. Then there will be five additional weeks of training before they start riding with veteran officers.

There is also a broad age range in this class. The youngest is just 19. The oldest is in their early 40s.